My daughter over a year ago developed a fear of all slides and playground equipment. It was overnight when she went from climbing and doing feats of daring to having nothing to do with the playgrounds. I am sure that this was a logical developmental milestone, but it through me for a loop because she was daring and seemed not to be afraid of anything.
I know both fear and fearlessness is what has allowed us as a species to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, fear has been the driving theme lately in our lives. I could discuss the whole politics of fear, but I am going to avoid that topic. Fear is what paralyzes us from making a change that our students so desperately need. Fear is what allows us to argue for the status quo.
I’ve come to a conclusion how to combat fear. It is knowledge, skills, and sense of competency. I saw this transformation right before my eyes. My daughter over time came to realize that had the skills and ability to climb the rock wall and slide down the biggest slide. She realized that taking the risk of getting hurt was minor compared to the fun of slide and monkey bars.
So, my dear readers, I challenge you to take that risk. Get the knowledge and skills. I promise you that it is worth it.
Dear Readers, I don’t think have shared that I am an avid gardener. My skills came from years of trial and error. I have come to the conclusion it is not about the plants that determine if I am successful, but where I plant them.
Living in Houston right behind a bayou, I had a horrible mix of clay and sand in most of my back yard. The first year, I just planted the plants in the ground and expected the raspberries to thrive. Of course, they did not. The following year, I got out the compost and some good soil from the local Big Box. The raspberries that I planted grew and survived the year. Over the course the few years, I continued to add organic material to the bed, and the raspberries produced a decent amount. By the time, I moved that area of soil looked so completely different that the soil around it. It was a beautiful black and had a sweet smell as opposed to the dirt around was pale, clumpy and stinky.
I tell you this because how often do we look around and put a great initiative into a school, and it fails. It probably happens more than we want to admit. This quote often appears in the Twitterverse, “Culture eats initiatives for lunch.”
In Rick Dufour’s In Praise of American Educators, he discusses how the first real step of creating a Professional Learning Community is not the technical setup but instead creating the mission, vision, values, and goals. He also discusses that when these drive how decisions, policies, and procedures are made, it will fundamentally change how the school works. If we only focus on the technical aspects, we will fail because we are not changing our thinking.
So my Dear Readers, please check the soil around your plant before you plant. Really, it is all about the soil that determines success.
At the end of work today, I headed to the gym (my now happy place). As I was walking in, I caught a glance of my legs, and I was amazed. I will tell that so often I don’t notice the results of the time at the gym. Honestly, if you ask me, I would talk about the strength and endurance I gained over the past year and a half when I left my couch potato ways. I am too close to the action and wouldn’t even think to talk how my body has changed. Amazingly, it has changed little by little on this fitness journey.
I bring this up not to brag, instead, I want to apply this idea to the classroom. As we are wrapping up the year. It is time to take a hard look at where our students are and where they were at the beginning of the year. So often we look at the small progress students make day to day that we fail to see it all adding up to a bigger change. Our students are profoundly changed because of us. Hopefully, we helped the student take the small steps to growing up to be an amazing adult.
So as you wrap up this year, take a moment to notice the incredible growth that occurred in your classroom. Don’t forget to share this view with your students. They may not even realize what they accomplished this year. We all need to take the long view.
I need to come clean about my front yard. You would not want to be its neighbor. There are huge patches of bare mud. Mud even covers sections of the sidewalk.The lawn that is left needs to be mowed, and it’s really not grass more like a collection of weeds. I’ve got an excuse. I only look at briefly when I get the mail. I haven’t invested in the yard because I have plans for how I want it to look. Now, these plans are few years in the future. There are retaining walls to be built and beds to be made. Why should I throw down seed when I am just going to have to tear it up when I put in the retaining wall? Why should I keep up with it?
My yard is an analogy to many of the lessons we tend to dismiss. We don’t take action on the lawn because it is just going to change anyway. How often do we reject a small tweak in our lesson because next year I redoing this whole unit anyway? Sometimes (often in my life) perfection gets in the way of improvement. Why try to get better because it won’t be as good what I plan to do later?
I challenge you to go ahead and get out your lawn mower and clean up that lesson or project. Get out the seed and create some growth in the yard you have.
In real life, I did get out and mowed the lawn and removed mud from the sidewalk. Now it looks passable, and I haven’t heard my neighbors complain. In work life, I am not going to let the grandiose ideas of improvement stop me from small effective change.
On this Mother’s Day, I could have written a post about a fantastic post about my own mother is or another topic. Instead, I remember a day a few weeks ago and the real power of motherhood.
The night before as I was driving to pick up my daughter, I heard an interview with Sheryl Sandberg about just showing up and her new book Option B. The next day, I reached out to my friend who had recently lost her dad, and we grabbed lunch together. The conversation was great and lively. It was what I needed.
As we were finishing our cookies, I noticed this mom and her two small kids. She was visibly upset and both her children had no shoes or coats (It was a cold spring day). The older boy was crying. I said to my friend, let’s buy the kids some cookies. My wise friend said we need to do more and talk to her. We went out and gave her the cookies and asked what she needed. She stated that she had to get out of where she was living; her dad was on the phone and heading to get her. My friend offered her children blankets to keep warm.
When we walked back in, the owner of the restaurant came out and invited the family in and sent a waitress over to take their order. Another customer came over and gave her some money and her card to help her figure things out. This crying woman felt so safe that she hung up the phone with her dad and began to relax and interact with her children.
I share this story with you dear reader to remind you:
- Motherhood is hard when you have a loving, caring partner. This mom represents many mothers in the US. We need to show up support single mothers. I could not get all that I do with my husband in the picture. Sheryl Sandberg wrote it about last Mother’s Day.
- Be the first person to reach out. Others are watching and looking for others to make the first move. It is time for a mob of kindness.
- The world can be scary, but it is really filled with kind, wonderful people.
- Just show up.
Pick one of my messages above or feel free to share below what you think I am reminding you about with this story.
A couple of moments came up last week that reminded me that as a mom and a teacher I need to do better.
- The housecleaner left a note that she thought the belt broke on the vacuum cleaner and that she hoped my husband could fix it. My husband made a comment over dinner that was sexist, and mom could fix it too. My son and daughter disagreed with him and said only Daddy fixes things.
- At soccer practice, my son at the ball stolen from him and the girl said, “Ha! Ha! you got beat by a girl.” My son was not even bothered by the comment. Knowing him, he was so intently focused on the skills that he didn’t hear her.
The first one did not phase me as much as the second one. I could claim that I am guilty of letting Mike fix things. To solve this one, it was easy. I will share the fixing load with my husband. The vacuum cleaner’s belt was replaced by me with my kids watching.
The second one is a little harder. Do I begin with the bragging or the comment about being a girl? I am starting to reflect on these questions:
- Does my language suggest that certain skills, traits or dispositions belong to one gender over the other?
- Do I reinforce gender roles that my children or students believe or do I challenge their thinking?
What I do know for sure is I want my children and students to be proud of their accomplishments without a gender qualifier.
This is my response to the final DCSD Blogs challenge: Advice for new teachers. A huge shout out to Liz Mastalio for organizing this challenge.
Dear New Teacher,
You have entered a noble career, and I am glad you joined us. We have been waiting for you. No one will teach just like you. You will reach a student that none of us could. You will come up with your original ideas.
I encourage you to find a tribe of diverse teachers that inspire and push you to grow. Twitter is a great starting point to help you find that tribe. Create systems that help you learn because it is our job to be the lead learner in your classroom.
People will tilt the head and tell you how noble of you to be a teacher. They will also say how nice it must be to have summers off. At dinner parties, you will have to describe how not all schools are broken. It will be worth it when you see your students succeed.
Please realize that parents are sending their hopes and dreams. Treat each student as if they are your own child.
I won’t lie all days will not be sunshine and roses. To support you on the hard days, create a habit gratitude. When we become thankful, we find that rain brings rainbows. Spend time lifting up others because it will lift you up as well.
Again, I am so glad you decided to teach. We need you.
A Veteran Teacher