Giving It Away

On Thursday, I turn forty.  This birthday has been looming for a while.  The last time a birthday felt significant was my twenty-fifth birthday.  That one I remember crying my eyes out because I was not where I thought I should be both professionally and personally.  In the past fifteen years, I have learned that when I spend my time navel-gazing and not focusing others, I become an unhappy person.  So this year, I have decided to give away my birthday.


What do I mean by giving away my birthday?  Glad you asked.  I am going to 40 acts of kindness.  I want to spend the day bringing joy to my school district and community.  My life is full of joy, and I am blessed.  If I start to count the blessings, they begin to multiply.

I am going to buy some Cokes (or pop in IA) for some fellow teachers.  I will load some Aldi carts with a quarter.  Provide some snacks.  Write some meaningful thank you notes.  Deliver some school supplies.  Find some meaningful resources for others.   Give some shout outs to people who have inspired me.

I invite you to celebrate my birthday with me.  On Thursday, perform an act of kindness and let me know.  I will be documenting my adventures with the #MMis40.

Some of my inspiration for this move:

  1. The Birthday Project
  2. This Seth Godin’s Post

The follow-up post to this.


We do care…

If you read my previous post about my visit to Angela’s class, then you know it really was powerful and meaningful.  As I was talking to the students individually, a student said this:

I have never had many good teachers.  Most of them don’t care about me.  They do their work and I do my work.  We really don’t connect on meaningful level.

This statement really wacked me a good one.  First, let me say that this is the student’s reality and it breaks my heart.

Second, my job allows me the freedom to visit teachers all over my district and I can see so many of them caring for their students and making meaningful connections.  I watch videos of teachers reflecting and helping students connect with the learning.

Why the disconnect?  I was going to blame the media hype that schools are full of bad uncaring teachers, but then I read this post from Tom Rademacher.  He is exactly right.  We do care.  Unfortunately, students don’t see the hours of planning and grading we do.  Students don’t see the late nights of worry.  They only see the person right in front of them during the class period.

How can we let students know we care about them?

  • Ask questions and listen.
  • Remember things.
  • SMILE.
  • Empathize.
  • Tell them.

As a teacher leader, I also need to remember those things as well.  I care deeply about the teacher leaders I work with and would hate to think that they thought I didn’t care.

If you are not busy…

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My week started with an e-mail from a High School Lead Teacher with this title:  If you are not busy…  I was fully prepared for request for me to complete another task.  Instead, I received this e-mail:

If you’re not busy this afternoon, I tried something new Friday, and my Honors students are coming in today to share their own Bag of Miscellany.  This comes from the last paragraph of Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography essay that we read in class—she saw so much of who she was inside under her own brown paper bag that not everyone around her saw.  So, I assigned students to come in with 3 miscellaneous items that show/tell something about who they are, but we may not ‘see’ this on the outside.

4th block begins at 1:24, and it literally will only take 15-20 minutes because I am only going to have half the class share because we need to further out work on our argumentative essay.  Anyway, I know you’re a big fan of techniques in building a respectful classroom, and I see this extension activity as just that.

With an e-mail like that, I pushed things around to see this.  Luckily, I brought my favorite camcorder.  I recorded one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in a classroom.  My breath still stops as I think about this day.   To think I could have said no and I would not be the wiser.

First let me describe what happened that day, the teacher shared her 3 things.  First, to model how to do present and secondly to share what was in her bag.  She was authentic about her items and her students were able to see her as a person.   One of the profound statements she said is “what you don’t see in me is that I am also struggling at home…”

Then the students came up to share.  The first student tried to play it cool and down play his work. Of course, this teacher made sure that he knew that it would be his best and that is all she was asking for.  The students came up and shared some personal things.  They discussed struggles with abuse, death of a parent and homelessness.  At the same time, other students shared more stereotypical high school things.  No matter what a person shared, it was accepted with respect and gratitude.  The teacher thanked each student for sharing and gave validation.  I was so inspired that I wanted to dig in with the students to figure out why this happened.

As I interviewed these students, I asked them about why they felt safe to share such personal things. Certain themes came out.

  • Student Voice– All of her students discussed that she forces students to express their opinion and then they are heard.  When they share, they will be listened to.  Most talked that it was a okay to have a different opinion because she did not try to sway you to her opinion.  It was heard and acknowledged.
  • Models Expectations– Students talked about how she treats everyone kindly and is trustworthy.  She also share her experiences as it impacts the learning.
  • Relationships– One student remembers that the first thing that came out of her mouth was a joke instead of a rule on the first day of school.  They talked about how she spent time at the beginning making sure that everyone knew each other. She makes them work in various pairs.  They said she liked them as a person not just as a student.

What does that mean to me?  If I want to create a community of teacher leaders, I need to focus on these 3 things.

  1. Ask and listen.
  2. Model learning and working out loud.
  3. Focus on the relationship first.

Am I there yet?  No, but I will be.

Thanks Angela Staber for being brave, trying something new and inviting me to see it.  I am honored that I got share special moment with you and your students.

Read more about my reflections here.