Sunday, August 24, 2014

Being Real with Relationships

Relationships matter.

I say this often.  They do.  Without them we would be a society without passion, without commitment, without learning.  Most importantly - a world without meaning.

But what does that really mean?

Take a moment to think about it.  Relationships are the basis for what we do.  I can tell a child something, show a child something, help a child experience something, but it matters because I care enough to help another.  To make sure they understand, and give them a platform to know that I believe in them.   It doesn't matter if it's my job or not, I want to help the child be more successful in life.  School isn't about "gotcha"; it's about growth, learning, and relationships.

Therefore, before kids are even names on a piece of paper assigned to my room, I care about them.  As a Christian, I pray about them.  I pray that I'm what they need, that I see them with clear eyes, that whatever I will do will penetrate their heart and grab their soul to move forward.  As a teacher, I prepare for them, create an inviting space, prepare lessons that invite choice, try to create an experience where each student sees his potential beyond the classroom walls.  As a human, I repeatedly tell them, "You matter. Your fingerprints are unique.  You are needed.  There is something in the world that only YOU can provide."

At this point, it's not even a choice.  By the time they walk in my room, I already care about them.

There are many ways I show this.

1.  I listen.  Sometimes at the beginning of the year I simply sit in the back and take notes.  I stop by a group and don't speak, but I listen to how they interact.  Being quiet allows true perspective on group dynamics.  Oftentimes they forget I'm sitting there.  In the hallways, I listen to conversations. I observe groupings; I watch for those who may not be involved. 

2.  I join in.  Once or twice a week I sit with my students in the cafeteria.  Occasionally they ask me why I do this, and my reply is, "I like you.  I enjoy being around people I like."  During our daily walk I ask how things are going.  I walk with them in the hallways. I ask about siblings. I do my best to remember facts, but I'm not shy when I forget.  I simply ask again.

3.  I extend grace.  With any relationships, sometimes emotion gets in the way of good decisions.  It's important that kids understand responsibility, so occasionally consequences are inevitable.  I work to make sure that the kids understand that consequences are a result of a choice, not how I feel about them.  If this is a new concept, sometimes I have to extend it many times.  Kids will test boundaries.

4.  I ask for grace.  I'm not perfect.  I'm a continual work in progress, and this is important to remember.  My students need to know that there are times when I don't hold all the answers or have the perfect response.  It's called being human.  Being direct and honest are qualities that kids need to see adults use. 

5.  Embrace the uniqueness of each child.  Rarely are there a group of 30 people who have the exact same needs.  Look at what each child needs to be successful.  Is it standing? sitting? moving? writing? drawing? sharing?  There are a million answers, but take the time to recognize our different ways of learning.

6.  I smile.  I laugh. I choose positive.  Every day my students should know that I love being with them.  I love sharing lessons; I love giving; I love learning with them.

We all know that kids will stumble in our room from all walks of life.  Some will eagerly embrace us.  Others will challenge.  A few will scorn.  The truth is that at the end of the day it's worth every effort.  It takes time.  Some will need more time and effort.  Some will feel like a brick wall.  It's important to continue reaching - continue on the path to show them that they matter. 

When you see this, it will change your life. 

More importantly, it will change theirs.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

5 Word GPS challenge

Last summer our principal invited a guest speaker to our building to encourage us to step out in creativity.

Perhaps you've heard of him?  Dave Burgess.

If you've ever been on Twitter on Mondays at 8 CST, you've probably seen the #tlap craze.  Honestly?  It helped me shift my perceptions just enough to have experienced the best year I've ever had . . . I felt empowered to make choices that were not always traditional.  Kids were invited to the experience -- and they learned.  They grew. 

I love learning from the best, so when his challenge passed across my Twitter feed this summer, I knew I had to participate.

Since kids start coming this week, this is the time to do it.

Where do I want to go with my class?

1. To renew -- I want to renew a love and passion for reading.  "Non-fiction helps us learn more; fiction helps us be more." (Noticer and Note) Many times students come to my class telling me that they don't like reading. It's boring. Then we start talking about books, and they tell me that they like suspense, or dystopian fiction, or zombies . . . Wait?  Zombies?  Yes.  It's a starting place.  Novels have the potential to change lives through allowing our brain new experiences.

2. To challenge -- Too often kids have learned to "play school."  I want to challenge them to grow.  That means that learning may look different across the classroom.  It also means I need to forge a strong relationship with each student to really dig and find the areas that will benefit them as a human.  I especially want to challenge in the area of writing.

3. To care -- If every child feels like a favorite of mine, it has been a good day.  I want each child sitting in the room to know that he/she is cherished.  Every single person matters.  Every single person will leave unique fingerprints upon the class, the school, the lives of others. 

4. To instill -- To instill the ability to see from a new perspective is a passion of mine.  What happens if we change the setting?  What happens if we add music? Why did the author use this word?  A shift in perspective can honestly change the world.  Looking outside of our own set of circumstances builds empathy, excites innovation, and changes us as humans.

5.  To excite -- What is more important than exciting a child to the point where he wants to become a life-long learner?  I want each child to embrace his future, to see potential, to be whatever he wants to be.

So that sets my GPS for the 2014-2015 school year.  I look forward to the roads and maps we will forge together.

True Leadership

I was sitting in church this morning enjoying the music when I watched our senior pastor (who is younger than me) join in the church band with his guitar.

He wasn't center stage, didn't need to stand out, just quietly joined in.

The music was beautiful.

It made me think of leadership skills.  You know, the leader who serves others just because it needs to be done.  The leader who brings chairs down to a classroom because they got moved over the summer, sends you a note in the mail to tell you that it was noticed that you were doing amazing things, who scrubs the graffiti off of the walls, who runs a report when you need it despite a million other pressing duties.  It made me think of the type of leader I want to be in my classroom.

I've always been of the mindset that there is no job that I'm above, and every job deserves my very best effort.  From serving someone yogurt, leading karaoke sessions, helping to cater, working in an office, teaching swimming lessons to teaching a class full of students, every job deserves my best me.  Someone has given me an opportunity to improve life for those around me and an expectation that I should do it with a willing heart.

I intentionally think about the topic of leadership in my classroom.  I do not ask my students to do anything that I'm not willing to do as well.  It is my hope that they recognize that I sweep the floor, pick up books, hand them pencils, work beside them, whatever the day may bring.  There are times that I'll ask for help, but others where I simply want them to see what it means to extend a helping hand. 

Yes, I control things in my room.  I do most of this by having clear expectations, honest conversations, and sharing why it's important to have some order.  I get passionate, dance, sing, and occasionally get a little loud, but it all comes back to the quality of serving the needs of those kids who are assigned to my room.  Serving them because I love them and care about their future.

Along the way, I hope I impact them in ways that will grow over years.  I hope I have them a different perspective from which to view life.  I hope I showed them grace. I hope that I gave them a sense of true leadership.

Leadership as a leader. Leadership as a servant. Leadership as a learner alongside them.

Thank you to the silent leaders in all walks of life.  The ones who do it because it needs to be done.  You are noticed and appreciated.