Monday, April 22, 2019

Reflect: Who is Your Mentor?

I was recently listening to Sadie Robertson's podcast "Whoa That's Good." If you haven't listened to it you should. It is a quick 30-minute podcast focused on the question, "What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?" It tends to be faith focused, but it still has amazing relatable discussions no matter your beliefs. In this particular podcast, Sadie was interviewing Chrissy Metz on her best piece of advice. At a certain point, the conversation went on to discuss mentors and who they consider being mentors in their life. This made me reflect this lovely Sunday morning on who I look to as mentors.

I feel like with the invention of social media and YouTube finding realistic expectations of life can be hard. Students and people all over the world post about those epic, best moments in their life....especially food, food is alway epic....but to me if you follow someone for the image they project that is only half knowing. There is so much more under the surface. Not all moments are Instagram worthy and that is ok. Those moments shape and define you. We have great tools at our fingertips, yet we have to be careful to not lose ourselves in them. We have to push progress and not perfection for ourselves and our students. They too see these epic images and lives posted all around, yet they don't know the struggle that comes with getting there. They too have to learn that it will not always be easy, but it will be worth it. There will be times that things are far from perfect, but we learn and grow in those moments to be better versions of ourselves.

Taking all that into account many of my mentors are people I look up to because of their vulnerability. They have shared the highs and lows making them truly human and relatable. I have found in my own life I have mentors all around me and some I have never personally met, but yet their story has touched me and made me want to be better. If I had to categorize my mentors I would put them in three main categories: Life, Teaching, and Family.

Life: Life mentor I believe might be the hardest to put my finger on. I think to narrow down people in my life I aspire to be like or I learn from is difficult. I have been blessed to pull from so many in my life and from people I have known from a distance. I would have to say my dad is a huge life mentor to me. He instilled hard work and the joy of helping others at a young age. I would also say, my boyfriend has pushed me to strive for more and never give up. He has lived a life full of amazing and sometimes hardening situations. Yet, he has grown and learned from all of them.

Other than these two amazing men in my life, I would say Joanna Gains is a life mentor. She started from nothing, grew herself and her business by word of mouth to become an amazing entrepreneur. All throughout she kept her family top priority but never lost herself in it. All my life the only thing I wanted to be was a mom. Over these last few months, I realized that being a mom is a huge joy and gift, but one shouldn't lose who you are in the process. I think Joanna does a great job keeping family first but realizing her own needs too. Chip is a great partner for her because when she needs time for herself or to start something new he supports her no matter what. Life wise they have been through stress, struggle and still were able to come out on top. I have read both their books and took away so many things I want to try and build into my life. The success they have had is great, but the joy they have brought others, the success they have had in their family, and the life they lead and instill in their children is what I am working towards.

Teaching: So many amazing teachers and yet so little time! I have been lucky enough to work with the best even starting with my amazing cooperating teacher. Knowing very little about teaching and starting out I threw every ounce of my being into my job. After a rough and depressing first year of teaching, I wasn't sure about anything. Lucky for me I ended up gaining mentors right when I needed them most. I was blessed to have some amazing mentors at my school especially Mrs Johnson who is never afraid to try something new and push her students to do more. I love how no matter what she is not afraid to put her self out there for the kids and make learning magical. That being said I have many more mentors I have been blessed to meet over the years.

After a trip to RCA (Ron Clark Academy) in my 3rd year of teaching, I was thrilled to learn from Hope King. After spending one class period with her I realized that she is a mentor. She brings magic into her classroom and teaches with high expectations in mind. My favorite quote from her that she said was, "If the kids think your crazy your doing it right." To be honest that night after hearing that quote I cried. My feelings were that of joy. The joy of knowing I'm not crazy in what I do. At that point, I was a very unique teacher in my building. Thus hearing that I wasn't alone, encouraged to keep doing what I am doing, and improve on it took a weight off my shoulders. I have followed Hope and all the amazing things she has done over the years and I feel blessed to have met her.

Another amazing meeting for me was meeting Tara M. Martin! I went to ISTE this past year and was beyond nervous. I felt very new to the edchat game and saw that Tara was launching her book at a beautiful location during ISTE. I knew very little about her or her book, but after some research realized I had to go. I remember being super nervous especially with my anxiety and not knowing anyone there, but Tara was truly kind and had such a bubbly personality. I left thrilled to have taken those big steps in coming in the first place. I walked away with a signed copy of her book. I read off and on this school year, not due to lack of interest. I was drawn in by her vulnerability and willingness to share even the hardest moments of her life. She shared her imperfections and I loved walking with her on her journey. I found a lot of parallels in our goals and experiences. I realized quite quickly that her progression in her career is what I wanted, but didn't realize. I love what I do and love teaching. However, I would love to one day be a curriculum coach and help others bring magic into their classrooms. I want to promote other voices, find new tools, and be a leader in my district especially when it comes to sharing amazing things teachers are doing. Tara and her book Be Real changed me and made me realize my goals for the future.

Family: When it comes to family I am just starting out. I have a loving boyfriend and two precocious dogs who I love like children. I have seen people I look up to and want to use ideas from as I begin the journey to start my own family. For me, one family that comes to mind is The Bucket List Family. They are a traveling family of journalists who have taken their young children all across the world to learn and help others. Now they had the amazing opportunity to do this because of their funds. Selling your company for millions will make the expenses doable. Yet on the surface, they have it made, but learning from them isn't about amazing travel and working hard to make millions. What I have taken from them is the importance of family time. It wasn't always easy to travel especially with little ones but to share in the experiences they made together. To watch them grow and meet new people was the part I loved. I want to raise my kids to enjoy experiences and not just things. I want them to be fearless, make friends without hesitation, and find joy in doing good. If anything I want my family to be built on joy, happiness, and health.

Overall, these are just a few people I consider my mentors. I foresee this changing and adding to this list throughout my life. I will grow and my goals will change. Regardless, having mentors and striving to make yourself better allows you to grow. Never stop looking for more or striving to achieve something that makes your heart beat. Allow opportunities and people to give influence to your life. Take what you need from them and learn from others just as others may learn from you.

With all this being said who do you consider a mentor? Why are they a mentor to you?

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dear Student Teachers...

My 1st Plan Book!

In the spring, the local college matches future Student Teachers with their cooperating teacher. The goal is to learn what their classroom expectations are before the fall. It's in these moments I reflect on my first days of school, my year as a student teacher, as well as my 1st year teaching. These experiences were rough and there are many experiences that you only learn from by dealing with them hands on. 

I have experienced many things in my 6 years of teaching and after having a student teacher of my own here is my advice:
  • Student Teachers need to be open to new ideas. They need to be open to risks but realize that they are not always practical with school and state mandates. We only have so much time in the day and we need to make sure we are using it wisely. 
  • Not everything can be a large project. Like I stated before there are so many things we have to teach that large projects might be limited to one or two a quarter and has to cover so many standards to be deemed worth it. Don't be afraid to shoot for those awesome projects, but instead have them cover several standards.
  • Modeling is more than one example. Too many student teachers and practicum students think going over one example is enough modeling. In elementary we need to do something many times and reflect. This is in order for the students to know what we expect and have more practice with a particular skill. 
  • Just because you think they have it doesn't mean they do. Keep practicing it until most show mastery. Asking "Do you get it?" doesn't mean you are going to get a valid or honest answer. Kids want to please so they will say yes even if they have no clue what they are doing. Be willing to find new and different ways for students to show their knowledge.
  • Be honest when you reflect. When the lesson doesn't go well don't immediately write it off as the students weren't focused or that they didn't listen. Ask yourself how can I make that lesson better? How can I get their attention? If the majority of students don't understand something how can I explain it better? What can I do tomorrow to make it easier for them to understand?
  • If help is given don't turn it away. If you have an aide or extra hands in your classroom don't have them run copies or grade. Instead, give them students to work with. Have them work with the kids in your room who need extra help. Come up with a plan for them. Even ask them what they feel is their strength and use it to benefit your students. 
  • Teaching is a workout. An effective teacher rarely sits. You need to be moving around the room when you teach unless you are working with a small group. Your energy and movement will draw students attention to the lesson don't just stand at the front or sit while they are working. You have to monitor, keep them on task, or just mediate situations. Otherwise, pull a group and work with students because sitting at your desk isn't helping anyone grow.
  • Energy is everything! When you walk into a room you need to be able to pull students attention. It's not always about the materials you use but how you sell them. Simple lessons can be fun. You must sell it like its the best thing in the world. If you apologize to the students about the lesson and say that it is boring or lacks movement then they will not enjoy it and neither will you. If you don't like how your lesson is, change it! Don't apologize, do something about it!
  • Don't put things off. If you know you need to make a test or prepare for a lesson don't wait until the last minute. The sooner you get it done the better. Things happen but if you are organized it makes it that much easier when/ if things happen. Now, this is harder said than done when you first start out. That's why it's important to reach out to other educators to help you get started.
  • Use resources, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Beg, Borrow, Steal, is a teachers' motto. Use resources if you can or are given them. Stockpile things you use or like. Consider contacting Teacher Pay Teacher sellers and see if you can get free or discounted items. Take extra copies from your cooperating teacher to make a binder. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make sense to spend hours on a worksheet or paper if you can find one just as good online. Teachers have families and lives outside of school. We have to set priorities, staying till 8pm at night to make everything from scratch doesn't make sense. 
  • Try something new. Don't be afraid to try something new you find online, a new app or website you can use in the classroom, or even try something you have seen another teacher do. If it works keep it, add to it, make it better. If it doesn't, move on and try something else. Otherwise, alter it to fit what you need. Trying something new can be scary, but don't let it stop you. It can really make your classroom an exciting place. Plus you want your teaching to develop and change over time.
  • You are not a student's friend. You are an adult and need to be respected. It is ok to play with them at times or teach them a game, but when learning is occurring there has to be mutual respect. A great moment is when a  student calls you mom or dad. You are an elder and should be respected. Part of that respect comes from developing relationships with students, getting to know them, setting boundaries for them, and being able to laugh with them. 
  • Students crave boundaries and they will push until they find that line. Know your line and hold firm to it. Hold everyone to the same expectation of behavior and talk to them about those expectations. Have students reflect on them, create them, and discuss them. It might be tough at first, but if you develop relationships with your students and hold the same expectations for all. They might get upset, but in the end, they will respect you for it. 
This is an amazing student teacher who will set the world on fire!

What were some of your takeaways from your student teaching or your 1st year of teaching? What advice would you give to a student teacher or First Year Teacher?

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hat Trick: Three Goals in Teaching

Have you ever been to a hockey game? It's truly an exciting and exhilarating experience. Similar to teaching it's fast-paced keeps you on your toes, and there are amazing goals and misses. What I think is most important about hockey is the teamwork that comes into play. Watching teams like the Blackhawks depend on each other and support each other on and off the ice is inspiring. Like many other team sports, there is this amazing comradery amongst teammates. This is something we need more of in education. We need to support each other and work together for the common good of our students. Part of that means being open and sharing in the process. Share your victories, but also share your failures. We have to be vulnerable with our teammates and we have to support each other along this journey.

I have really been reflecting these last few years of teaching and thinking to myself what does a good teacher make? I can't say I truly know, but if I were to give three pieces for teachers to focus on it would be relationships, risk-taking, and reflection.

People always say relationships are important, especially in regards to our students. I agree! If you plan on teaching a child you need to first know and build a relationship with that child. Every year I try to start the year with fun activities, but also high expectations. I have run into teachers who worry that high expectations early on can negatively impact your relationships with the students. I disagree because high expectations say I expect more because I know you are capable of more.

Students need to know you believe in them and having high expectations helps them realize you do. It's about how you address those expectations. Being positive and encouraging when students arrive and hold those high expectations are important. When they break the rules or don't rise to expectations how do you handle it? For me, it's addressing them at that moment, but also taking time later to discuss with them their choices. Students who are yelled at and never talked to or are given a consequence, but never given any feedback will feel singled out. They start to feel detached and are not invested in the classroom. We need to make sure those students realize why. Why are they being called out? Why is what they did wrong? Often times they know, but being that person who helps them to reflect and understand is part of building those relationships. I can't tell you how many times I have said, " I know you're mad. I know you're mad at me, but I know what you are capable of and you are better than this." You have no idea how many students in your class need to hear that. I know from personal experience many of my students never are told that someone believes in them and that they think they are amazing.

Yet, relationships are not just important for your students. These relationships need to be developed in the community both in the building and outside of it. We need to build relationships with other educators and support one another as a team. We also need to support our community. We need to bring them into our classroom, have them share their experiences, and their knowledge. We also need to show them the impact they make is real and appreciated. Bringing in community members into your classroom and bringing families into our buildings brings life and support to our students. We need to find ways to work together and build these relationships over time.

Risk-taking is a hot topic these days. The world and companies are looking for more people who can collaborate, but also have design thinking skills. People who take risks, but who persevere. Individuals who are constantly willing to reflect, adapt, and test things until they work. We have to encourage the risks in our classrooms. We have to congratulate the risks and the failures. Our education system has for too long been focused on getting the right answer. Even looking back on my own education I recall freaking out if I didn't get something the first time I tried. This idea is crazy to me. The older and wiser I became I realized that rarely happens. Often times the process is long, practice is needed to grow. We need to promote the skill of perseverance over perfection in our classrooms. The reason is perseverance is realistic and a life long skill. We need to model risk-taking to our students. It begins with us! We have to be willing to try new things, refuse to be stagnant. As educators, we need to grow, develop, and learn from those around us. It is our duty to our students and ourselves to constantly take risks and grow from those risks. If anything it makes our jobs exciting and forces us/ our students to be more creative.

If you have made it this far you have already heard reflection be mentioned quite a bit. Reflection to me is the root of everything. All things come back to reflection. Students and educators alike need to reflect on their day. Reflection is important when we do anything. As an educator, I reflect on my lessons, what went well, what didn't. I even have started getting student input on the lessons. It's hard not to take it personally, but we have to remember we are growing as much as our students are. If we can't take suggestions how can we model it for students? They have to take suggestions from us daily. That builds on our relationships with the students. Giving our students opportunities to reflect is a skill that is just as important as any taught in other subjects. We need our students to take those opportunities to reflect on behavior, academics, and growth. Students recognizing what they do know can be empowering. Yet, realizing what they struggle with can be empowering as well because it gives them a focus in their learning.

When all three of these come together or when you grow in these three areas you have scored a "hat-trick" in education. You have effectively scored three goals, grown as a better educator, and grown as a better person.

What would be your hat trick? Do you agree with my three goals or do you have a different three?
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