Roasting Hillsides and Marshmallows

The first week of school had a couple challenges no one expected.


The first day of school was like Christmas downgraded to Groundhog Day.  We were in the locale of the Pilot Fire.  The sky was orange; the air was smoke-filled; the children were scared; we were locked inside except to go get lunch and use the restroom. And yet, we began as best we could. Big chunks of my plans were cancelled. No problem. They hadn’t read my plans.  We got to know each other. We created. We did some GoNoodle so we wouldn’t lose ours. Then we went home. For two days.

Ultimately what that means is that we had the first day of school all over again on Thursday, which was also Back to School Night. Does that make me cry? Nope. I broke out The Marshmallow Challenge I had intended to do on the first day.  It was fun and the best tool I have ever used to get to know my students. I saw immediately who my “leaders” were, who was quietly thoughtful, who cooperates naturally and who does not, and so on and so forth.  All of that information is very helpful, but that is not the best part.

When time was up on the challenge, we had zero towers standing. Zero. One student said, “We didn’t make it, but we had fun!” But wait, there’s more! We came together to talk about the experience, and create a circle map about group work. Beforehand, we watched the TED talk about the Marshmallow Challenge. Some of it didn’t apply to them, but the main concepts did.  Reflecting on the talk and their own experiences, they came up with some ideas. They told me they learned that to be successful they needed to listen to each other, to try every person’s idea with no one trying to be the boss, they needed to persevere (word of the day), and they needed to be kind to each other. I was a happy teacher. We celebrated our failure at towers and success in learning by eating marshmallows, of course.



To Blog or Not to Blog: A Willingness to Be Crap

The encouragement to start a blog (or simply to write and share) has come from a few different parts of my life. I had tried before, but I gave up quickly after one or two posts – I couldn’t take the pressure to not be crap. I couldn’t let go of the feeling that no one cared what I had to say or that sharing a success seemed like humble bragging or sharing a defeat felt like a pity party people were forced to attend.  I have also seen how “haters” are out there and thrive on attacking by seeing the “comments” my daughter received on her blog about growing up and living with Sensory Processing Disorder.  She too, ultimately took a step back from sharing.

The irony is, I love reading blogs. I don’t judge the writer with the same criticism I throw at myself.  What is actually arrogant is assuming that my readers will be less kind or less gracious than I am.  There will be some detractors, but overall, people do want to love and support one another.  I am confident in this position because one of my greatest accomplishments this summer has been reaching out to other educators through Twitter and professional development opportunities – starting to build a Professional Learning Network, PLN, outside of my school site and friends. What I have discovered outside my bubble is a community of passionate, inspired and inspiring educators eager to share, learn, celebrate and grieve together.

Aside from becoming part of a larger network of educators, my second goal is become publicly reflective about my teaching practice. Steve Wyborney, author the book The Writing on the Classroom Wall, includes this practice as part of being a public learner. To be honest, being vulnerable in public is not something most people will sign up for – including me.  Our social media lives are generally our times of family unity and meals not obtained through a drive-thru window. The airing of “dirty laundry” is frowned upon even though it is in the fertile valleys, in the shadows, where the most growth occurs and deepest ties are bound among us.

Ultimately, it is about growth. Blogging is a time to be introspective of my practices, process intentions and outcomes to evaluate if they match, attain support and guidance for flops, share successes for the benefit of others, and demonstrate to my students that I will not ask them to take risks I am not willing to take. Bono (from U2 for younger people) says “The fear of being crap is what makes you great.”  Well, if it an actual algorithm, I’m off to a fabulous start.