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.

Why Twitter?

I have a 21 year old daughter who is a social media guru. Twitter is one of her favorite tools for connecting to the world. I was a Twitter hold-out.  I had a Twitter account for years that I set up basically to keep an eye on my children and their friends. I chose some interesting people to follow such as journalists and politicians – some because I liked their thinking and some because I did not.  But I didn’t post. Ever. I didn’t understand why or how people were so connected on Twitter. THEN I started my journey with personal PD by reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. He made me see Twitter differently.  That was a little over a year ago. Twitter has been career-changing, not because it is moving my career forward neccessarily, but by how I am moving through it.

People who have known me for a long time tend to discredit me when I say that I am shy. I don’t come across as shy because I approach interacting with new people like a fire-walker before a bed of coals.  I have always been a bit awkward – too much pondering and too much passion for the average user, I suppose.  But on Twitter . . . there is no such thing as “too much”. Pondering and passion are the life-blood of these educators!

I just finished my Saturday morning ritual of #leadupchat with @PrincipalPaul, #satchatwc with @Burgess_Shelley and @BethHouf then #EduGladiators with @mgrosstayor. Saturday mornings are perfect for me. Everyone else is asleep. The house is quiet. The internet and coffee are all mine! I do my best to jump into other powerful chats at other times, but it is challenging. Family first.  By the end of each chat, I have a new idea, renewed inspiration, revitalized growth mindset, a new idea to ponder and sometimes a sense that I contributed something meaningful to the conversation.  That is powerful.  It may ultimately be the difference between burning out or pushing on in this totally consuming career.

When my thinking is challenged on Twitter, I can safely assume it is for mutual benefit. When I ask a question or plead for help, answers and assistance are immediately forthcoming. I have made connections with people I would hope would be my friend should we cross paths “in analog”.  I want to thank a few people who made an impact on me and how I see myself as an educator: Melissa @ChouinardJahant, Beth @BethHouf, Teresa @teresagross625, Bethany @bethhill2829, @valerietilton, Mark @shiftparadigm  . . . and so many others, because they are kind, positive, encouraging and growth-driven educators who made me feel validated even if challenging me.

If someone tells me they want to grow as an educator but they don’t want anything to do with Twitter, I sigh deeply because Twitter is the water they are asking to drink. Come grow with me.  The ideas and possibilites are endless, but the time we have to impact our students is limited. Begin today.

Contemplating Summer

I miss my students. Is that normal? I want to know if Maria’s dog had her puppies. Did Annabelle get to go to Arizona to see File_000her grandparents? Is Armando spending the summer fighting with his big brother or are they playing video games together? How is Kyra managing her anxiety this summer? Is she using the tools she worked so hard to cultivate during the school year? Is Jayden hanging out with positive kids who will build him up and push him forward, or is he getting in trouble?

I could go on and on with all the things I wonder about them. We shared our lives for 10 months. Every morning we shared our celebrations and concerns. It feels like a favorite TV series ended ubruptly without any closure.  Some students will be back in August, and I can grab them for a quick chat to see what happened while we were away.  Others will have moved, and I will never know.  And I will never stop wondering.

Summer is rough.  I need it desperately. Loving and learning with so many people for so many days is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Not to mention I have so much to learn and reflect upon so I can be even better teachers the next year.  I am grateful for the days that I have been able to get away to sit on the beach, read an actual novel, catch up with friends who never see me during the school year. I have taken one nap, but I have plans for at least one more.

So here I am, stuck in the strangeness of summer. I revel in this time to develop me and nurture my personal realtionships while simultaneously missing my school life and school family.  Summer vacation is half over and over-booked. Better go breathe deeply for a bit. In a few weeks I will be nostaligic for this moment in time.

 

The Learning Curve is a Circle

In my short career as a full-time teacher, I have discovered that the idea of learning the curriculum and settling down to teach is a fantasy of a by-gone era.  This is true for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I have yet to “settle down” myself into one grade level. That, I hope, is going to change and I can at least know where I will live at school for a while.

With that being said, what we are defining as curriculum has changed. In the No Child Left Behind years it was “I know what the reading, math, science and social studies TEs want me to do and the pace the district wants me to teach these subjects. I have developed activities and projects to go along with it. Done and done. Send forth the students.” Right? You could develop a master plan and play on repeat for years with little tweaks here and there.  After a few years in one grade level, you were a master.

Then something happened. Universities and Corporate America were irritated that our top-scoring students and the workforce had no idea how to think critically, to create innovative products, to work collaboratively with their collagues or to communicate effectively with their cohort and/or global partners. The “best and brightest” students and the workforce wanted to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. The problem was that the world changed while no one was watching, and the we were not equipped with the skills the world needed. When that happened, all eyes turned on teachers with an accusatory glare.  As if.

So here we are, in the 21st Century, with newly defined learning goals that have reading, writing, math, science and social studies embedded within them, but are not defined by them. We have a new definition of literacy that includes coding and effective use of social media. We have students who live in the fast-changing world, not just neighborhood and are so used to getting their needs met instantly that rigor and failure are not something that come to school with having muscles for.

What does that mean to me, as 21st Century teacher? It means that there is no “learning curve” to becoming a master teacher. It is a circle. My primary teaching tools are not textbooks and pacing guides because they will not provide my students with the skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration or communication.  My role has changed from dispenser of information to guide, and the people “on my tour” constantly change as does the landscape out the window.  The tools I have at my disposal for guiding seem to be innumermable with varied levels of efficacy – more and more being “sold” to teachers all the time. It is exciting and confounding trying to make sure that the tools are more substance than flash, that they are learning and expression tools and not just gimmicks.

The biggest challenge, I believe, is to help students quiet down the inner noise and discover the great questions – the questions that they wanted answered incessesantly when they were three years old: “Why? What if?”  Our textbook, memorize and repeat system has “schooled” the very skills our students arrive with and need to succeed in our modern economy right out of them. It sure was easier, in many respects, to teach students how to work in the widget factory than to teach them for unforeseen the jobs of the future.  And as long as the world keeps up its pace of changing, I will have to keep up with it. The learning curve is without end. That is exciting, friends.

Letting Go

May is getting ready to close it’s doors, so if I don’t move fast I may get my fingers slammed in the hinges.  By now we’ve been learning, growing, creating, loving, coping, flipping, dabbing and figeting together for nearing on 180 days.  We have had nine students move on from us and seven find their way into our classroom family. We are tired and ready for a break but not really ready to let go.

I know this is true because all the tell-tale signs are there: anxiety is up, hugs are constant, new “behaviors” have popped up, and some students have flat-out asked to be held back so they can stay with me.  Change is hard.  I try to remind them how scared they were to come to fourth grade and leave their favorite teacher. “But now YOU are my favorite teacher!” they argue.  Here’s a secret I tell them, “You will find your favorite teacher every year.”

I think they have figured out that I don’t relish letting them go. Hugs are longer and tighter, and the “pep talks” are given with more gravity and misty eyes.  I have to trust I did everything I could for them this year academically and social-emotionally, that their tool box is packed.  I hope that no matter where they end up, back on our campus or on a new adventure, they look back on fourth grade as a great year and their teacher as someone who loved them and always wanted the best for them.

Four more days of memories to make, then I have to let them go.