Posted in Dream Big, General Inspiration, More Than Scores, Note to Teachers

A Teacher’s Gift – What the World Gives and Gets…


Dear Teacher,

I had an epiphany this week.  I wish I would have had this mind-blown moment years ago…it is going to revolutionize the way I think about teaching and my role as a teacher.  I am almost ashamed to admit it, though.  I have worked with teachers who live this out every day.  It just didn’t sink in and click in for me until this week.

This mind-storm (pun intended…LEGO fans) was initiated by two things: a documentary about the man behind Segway scooters (and FIRST Robotics) and the story of LEGO Africa.  The documentary is about Dean Kamen and how he is trying to solve the world’s clean water problem (which I think he might just do!).  If you have Netflix, you really need to watch it; it’s called SlingShot.  LEGO Africa is a program started by a 6 year-old boy with an idea and his father to send LEGO to schools and communities in Africa.  It is an amazing program!  I will share a video at the end about it.

Before that, I need to get back to my epiphany.  Are you ready for it?

Teaching is not about teaching.

Now that I write it out, it doesn’t make sense.  Maybe I need to add to this a little to fill in the gaps of thought.  Let me try again.

Education is not about teaching…

The true heart of being an educator is not about delivering content…the internet does that on it’s own just fine (before that we had little things called books and encyclopedias).  It is not about helping students learn the ins-and-outs and nuts-and-bolts of the world.  It is not about making students feel better and increase their self-esteem (not that this is not important, but it is not the main goal of teaching).  It is not wrapped up in the art of presenting and knowing all of the cool ways to use technology breakthroughs to be the best at it.  It is not, obviously, about planning, grading, and keeping up with the latest and greatest PD.  No, the role of being a teacher is not all about these things that define being a teacher in our society.

Education is much, much more than teaching.

At the core of education is something very much deeper than teaching.  It is something almost indescribable.  It is something we can’t put our finger on or even quite know for certain from where we stand.  It is something that is vital to our planet more than ever, I believe, and the world that know won’t survive without it.

Education is about the future.

It is not about the here and now.  It is not, quite frankly, about us.  It is, however, the very heart and soul of generations to come.  Our role as educators, especially the teachers at the front lines, is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow to solve the problems of today and make the world a better place.  It is all about making tomorrow better without knowing what it will bring.

No pressure.

I actually am kidding there.  It is slightly stressful to think about, but at the same time it is also freeing.  It really lets you take stock of your true purpose in the classroom.  You can drop back, reflect on all that you do, and then start fresh with a new perspective and drive.

A quick disclaimer…

As I continue, please know that I realize that content is important for all of this, but I am thinking more about our reasons and thoughts behind teaching content.  What are we doing it for?  Do we have a bigger purpose?  I do believe there is a great picture here.

It is all about equipping leaders, thinkers, and doers.

Our job is to help students become who they need to be to lead the world to a better place than it is right now.  We are making leaders that will look at what is going on and be determined to find ways to fix it.  We are developing the thinkers that will be able to look at problems with fresh eyes and see new solutions to age-old problems.  We are training doers that aren’t afraid to get dirty and do the work that needs to be done to clean up the messes that have been made.  We are changing the world…but only from a distance.

Image Source: Pinterest.com
Image Source:
Pinterest.com

So how, pray-tell, do we do this?

We have to come to our role as educators from a different perspective.  We have to ask some hard questions:

  • Are we giving our students practice at solving real problems and making this the reason that content is needed?
  • Are we telling students how to learn or giving them opportunities to need to learn and find how they do that best on their own (with a lot of scaffolding)?
  • Are we honest with students about what is going on in the world at-large and giving them opportunities to think up ways to help contribute to solutions?
  • Are we giving students chances to think outside of themselves and show compassion to others (or at least to empathize with them)?
  • Are we allowing students the time and space to work on ideas for helping others or solving problems in their communities?

I could go on and on, but I think you get it.

If you teach using PBL, than you have already thought through a lot of this.  I do challenge you to keep thinking and questioning your true motives for how you teach…is it really about the future or getting the content in?

I am pretty sure that if you are reading this, you already think on this level.  I just really wanted to share my thoughts on all of this today.

It truly hit home for me this week that there is a real world out there with so many problems that our students are going to have to grow up and solve.  We need to start them thinking about this all now and giving them the opportunities to start working through it.  They may already be able to come to better conclusions than we have!

To sum this really long post up…the Teacher’s gift is the future.  It is ours to mold and take care of, but it is also ours to give.  How are you doing with that gift?

You are awesome!  I know you already think on these terms.  Thanks for reading as I verbal process these thoughts and reflect on them!  You really are making a difference and you are most definitely changing the future for the good!  You rock!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

PS…

Here is the LEGO Africa video:

Posted in Cheer Up, General Inspiration, Note to Teachers

The Teaching Dead…Attack of the Zombie Teacher!


Image Source: amazon.com
Image Source:
amazon.com

Dear Teacher,

I have always thought that The Walking Dead would make a much better title for a book or movie about teaching during cold and flu season.  It’s no secret that we basically work in a Petri dish for viruses and bacteria.  A whole lot of people all in one building together and a majority of those people struggle with hygiene and the concept of personal space.  We really should be allowed to wear hazmat suits sometimes.  Seriously.

We walk through the halls trying to avoid the infected.  Handshakes and hugs become fast fist-bumps and vigorous application of hand sanitizer.  Think about it.  It is much like a zombie show or movie.  We just don’t try to destroy the sick…although we are quick to recommend a phone call home or trip to the nurse…I guess that is kind of like a shot to the head for the cold and flu.

Image Source: www.someecards.com
Image Source:
http://www.someecards.com

Anyway, the inevitable happens, and we become one of them.  We get whatever is going around.  Teachers get sick.  It is a reality that is bound to happen, no matter the precautions we take.  We become one with the zombies.  We take the plunge into Walker-dom.

The most awful thing about getting sick as a teacher is that rest, getting better, and even going to the doctor is not that simple.  This is one of the many things that I wish the world knew about the life of teaching.  “Calling in a Sub” is not an easy task.  It is, more times than not, easier just to play through the pain and just work sick.

Image Sorce: www.someecards.com
Image Sorce:
http://www.someecards.com

Oh yes, we know that the other teachers are going to hate us for it.  We are, in essence, upping the chances of their zombie-transformations.  There is a slight chance that our own sickness came from the kindness of other teachers not wanting to bother a sub.  And we are irritated by that, but at the same time the effort of going through the trouble of getting things set up for a substitute teacher is not always possible when you feel like you have been hit by a truck.

We have all done it.  We have all avoided messiness of finding a sub, figuring out what to leave for students that sticks with pacing and what you have been doing, setting all of that up, dealing with the issues of the plans not being followed, and playing catch-up with students when you come back.  We have gone in sick.  We have because it is sometimes more restful just do that than all of that.

Sometimes we come in sick because we have to.  There is a major test of some sort to give.  There is a project that has to be finished.  There is some kind of training during planning that is a one-time-only kind of thing.  We come in because there is no other option.

Image Source: pixabay.com
Image Source:
pixabay.com

Whatever the reason, we have all taught while sick.  And now we are back to The Walking Dead.  There is no better word for how that feels.  We feel like walking dead.  It is like the Theraflu commercial…

Theraflu ExpressMax

We are barely there.  We are miserable.  We feel bad.  We feel worse that we might make other people sick.  But we are there.  We are trying to do what is right.  It is the heart of the teacher in us.

Well, I would like to thank you for all of the times that you worked sick, Teacher.  You are awesome to care so much for your students!

If you are experiencing this right now…like me…chin up.  You will feel better eventually.  It feels like being sick is your new reality, but colds and the flu go away.  You will be back to yourself before long.  Keep fighting!

And I would like to give you a piece of advice.  If you can work up the muster to get everything together, call in a sub.  You will be sick longer if you don’t rest.  I know it is hard, but it is worth it.  Many people have told you to look out for yourself, but it is true.  You need to.  Take care of yourself, Teacher.

You really are amazing.  You are such a great teacher!  I believe in you and you are making a difference!  Keep on teaching, Teacher (even when your sick)!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, More Than Scores, Pep Talk, Quotes to Inspire, Teaching Power, You Are Awesome!!!

The Easy Button for Increasing Classroom Engagement


 

Image Source: www.staples.com
Image Source:
http://www.staples.com

Dear Teacher,

If you have been teaching for any length of time, you know one thing to be true above most others…there are no silver bullets.  There is no “one thing” that will be able to fix all things in your classroom or for your students.  There is not a magic teaching pill that will cause all students to learn, grow, and find success.

No, you no the very real reality that teaching, learning, and education take work.  And I am not going to go against that.  Not one bit.

There is much truth in the fact that you have got to be an active learner yourself and find out best practices and new ideas.  You have to practice those best practices.  You have to know your content.  You have to be creative.  You have to figure out new ways to plan and facilitate learning in your classroom.  You have to keep up with technology and how to use it as a tool to help students learn more effectively.  Speaking of students, you have to do the very challenging and messy work of getting to know them and building rapport and relationships with them.  The same goes with your students’ parents, other teachers and staff, and administration.

Teaching is work.  Difficult work.  Rewarding work, true, but hard work.

Um, so far this post is pretty much the opposite of your title…where is the easy button?

Everything said so far is what we know in our teacher reality.  But…there is one thing that does make all of this a lot easier and will increase student engagement in your class.

Image Source: http://www.authormedia.com/mybooktable-1-3/
Image Source: http://www.authormedia.com/mybooktable-1-3/

That easy button is….wait for it….

Oh no.  Is this one of those times where you give the big build up and the one answer is me?

You guessed it.  The easy button for making some of the hard parts of teaching and to increase engagement is, indeed, YOU!

Just like all of the other times I have set you up for a big secret in education, the key is you.  Something inside of you and about you can unlock the easiness to making tough things seem less tough.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Maya Angelou:

If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

There is so very much that we can change about education and what needs to happen in our classroom.  We can’t change the content we are required to teach.  We can’t change the students (not directly, at least).  We can’t change their parents.  We can’t change their home environments.  We can’t change expectations from administration, districts, and the state (again, not directly).  We can’t change what needs to happen for teaching and learning to truly happen in our classroom.

No, there is not very much that we can change in education…but we can change ourselves.

There is a lot of ways that we can change our attitudes as teachers, but I want to just focus on one…above all else, we need to love what we do!

I am not saying that we have to love all of the bureaucracy, paperwork, and struggles with the harsh realities that our students have to deal with…no, I am not sure that anyone should love that.  I am saying that we need to love the fact that we get to teach students and open them up to wonders of the world and the awesomeness of fighting to understand something new and the thrill of the moment when it all clicks.  We also get to have the hope of being a part of changing the lives of our students for the better and helping them realize how learning new things changes possibilities!  That is what we live for.  That is why we teach.

We need to love what we do!

We have to be excited about what we are teaching in our classes.  If you don’t love all of your content, be excited about the way that you are teaching it!  Don’t love how you teach something?  TEACH IT DIFFERENTLY!  You are in control of that.  You have got to find a way to love what you teach and how you teach it!  You have to!  This is what makes students take notice and want to be engaged in the process of learning.

It is our passion and love of the teaching/learning process that draws students in.  That is the key.  That is the easy button.  Our engagement in the process makes them not want to miss out and be a part of whatever has you so excited!

Think about the great teachers you have had or that you know…they were passionate about what they do, weren’t they?  I bet the answer is yes.

Teachers who love and are passionate about teaching breed students who love and are passionate about learning.

Teacher, love what you do!  Let it show.  Make it obvious.  The students will want a sip of what you are drinking, I promise!  They will be engaged!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are awesome.  I bet I was preaching to the choir the whole time, wasn’t I?  You do love what you do.  You aren’t afraid to show it.  Remember to keep that passion for teaching and learning going!  Help students be ignited by your fire and their passion for learning will be contagious to others!  Keep on loving what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Pep Talk

The Secret Ingredient to Being a Great Teacher…


Dear Teacher,

We live in an interesting time to be in the field of education, do we not?  This is not a set up to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher or administrator in this day-and-age, though there are a lot of difficult and harsh realities for us right now.  There is another side to being an educator right now…

Resources.

We have some of the most amazing resources available to us.  Some teachers have more than others, but we all have more than teachers had at any time in the past.  We have the internet (if not readily accessible to student, you have access to it for planning…you are reading a blog right now, aren’t you?).  We have technology (very few teachers do not have the availability of some kind of tech).  We have each other (we can connect with educators around the world and collaborate and learn from each other).  The list is endless.

We have so much.

Yet, do we have more great teachers than ever before?  I am not sure about that.  It seems like we should, but there is probably the same average amount of great teachers as there ever has been (which is a large number…I am not saying this to knock education).  Great teachers will always be great teachers…no matter the resources.

So how do great teachers become and stay great teachers?

There are A LOT of factors here…

  • Studying education and the latest research
  • Workshops and staying in touch with other great teachers
  • Focusing on students more than content
  • Knowing when to teach more and when to teach less
  • Mastering the art of facilitation
  • And so many other things…

But there is one secret ingredient that I think matters the most and is common among most of the great teachers in history, and it is amazingly simple.

The secret to you being a great teacher is you.

What?

Great teachers know themselves.  They know their strengths and weaknesses.  They work on the weaknesses and play to their strengths.  They do not deny who they are as people, and this lets their passions for teaching and for life play themselves out in the classroom.  Their zeal for what drives them pushes students to strive harder and become interested and engaged.  Because great teachers are keyed into who they are, their dreams are big and they fight to achieve them.  They also know what they need and go after those things…for this reason fund-raising seems easy for them and  “personal PD” is not a new idea because it has been a theme of their lives!

Great teachers are aware of themselves and this makes the more aware of their students and what needs to happen  in their classroom.

Resources are not what make great teachers great…great teachers make all resources great because they are keenly aware of how to use them.  The type of resource or school “realities” are not limitations…they do not really know limitations!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Great teachers know who they are and do not hide it.

Great teachers share their passions and interests and make them a part of their instruction.

Great teachers have a sense of what they need and this gives them a sense of student needs.

You are a great teacher…you just have to get to know yourself to bring the great teacher out!

You are the key to you being a great teacher!

You are a much greater teacher than you think  you are!  We can all be greater…so lets work on it.  You are amazing!  I know you are a great teacher!  You are making a difference because you are completely awesome!  Keep working at your greatness and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in Challenge, General Inspiration, Hope For Students, Hope for Teachers, More Than Scores

The Perfect Plan for that One Student


Dear Teacher,

It is early in the year, but if you have been teaching for at least a year I bet you already know something about your class(es).

We all know that there is always “that one student” in your class that, well…you know who I’m talking about.

wpid-storagesdcard0MemesWrite-me-up..jpg.jpg

Have you found him/her yet?  Have you identified that student that is going to make the year more, um, interesting?

I am not saying all of this to mean that there is always going to be a defiant student that you just can’t reach.  I am just admitting the reality that there usually seems to be at least one student (or more than one) whom it will be more off a challenge to connect (and operate class with him/her in the room some days).

I am sure that we have all seen the meme, or some form of it, that tells us something that is probably true about this student.

Image Source: http://www.katiemalinski.com

I guess it may be kind of a cliched thought at this point, but it is nonetheless true.  These students are probably fighting battles that we have no way of knowing.  They are acting out in response to the reality that they know or as a way to gain control of their lives in some way.  I think we all know this and may even know some of the child’s story.

But still…

How in the [choose your own word to go here] are we supposed to teach when that student is “looking for love in all the wrong places” and you have a classroom of other students who aren’t?

What is worse is that sometimes these students learn that if they do this often enough, they are in complete control and this feels good against the chaos backdrop of their lives .  Things that feel good are often repeated.  This repetition causes a different kind of chaos for you and your other students.  Not to mention you have an ongoing problem that makes other teachers and administration question your classroom management skills.

Gee, thanks for reminding me what to look forward to…

Do not fret, I have something for you to try!

Okay, I am going to be honest, this idea is not my own, but I have stumbled upon pieces of it by accident almost every year that I have taught (this year will be number ten).  The basis of it is simple, and I think it is something we all know intrinsically (however, it is so hard to practice sometimes).

The key to working with difficult students is what you do when there is no crisis.

If the only attention that these students get from you is when there is a classroom disruption or some kind of drama and these students are acting out as way to get the attention they crave…one plus one equals two…they are going to show out in your class.  I can say that with as much certainty as I can say that the Sun shines during the day more than at night.  It is not rocket surgery (yes, I know what I did there).

This means that they have to have attention from you unrelated to their behavior.  Oh, and just praising the “good stuff” is not enough.  That is still based on behavior.  If they want attention and are used to getting it for negative things, the negative is easier for them to attain.  If “being good” is a stretch from what is comfortable and they want the attention without working for it, get ready for negative behaviors that disrupt your class.  It may be less often, but it will still happen.

No, you can’t base your connection with them on behavior (but praising the positive is still very, very important).

You have got to build a relationship with these students (and arguably all students) based on them being human people that deserve respect for who they are more than what they’ve done.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that we ignore behavior!  No.  Consequences for negative behaviors and praise for positive is also a needed aspect of humanity that will help children grow into better adults.  Behavior is important!  However, there is something that these students need that they aren’t getting much of…connection with adults based on who they are and not what they do.  This type of attention will help them slowly learn to think through choices and pay attention, eventually, more to their behavior.

Connection in the most important attention that these students need.

All students need this type of attention.  Most students get this type of attention at home, school, or elsewhere.  A lot of times our most difficult students do not.  They need it and don’t know it, and they are not getting it.  They get attention (and control) the only way they know how…and sometimes this is unfortunately at the expense of your class time.

You know the need, so now how about a strategy for trying to meet it?

We have so much on our plates as teachers, how are we going to find time for individual students (that probably drive us up a wall most days)?

Little of the time should come during class time.

We all know those moments in the day we can use.  Elementary teachers can build a minute or two into transition time (have the other students transition while you take a moment to talk to the one student).  Middle School and High School teachers can use hallway transition times (or other times that can be built into class time…like the small transitions in class).  Also, giving these students class jobs go a long way, too, and gives you time to talk.

How do you build the relationships during these little moments?

That is where the strategy I mentioned that is not my idea comes in…

The 2 x 10 Strategy

No, I am not suggesting that you use a large piece of lumber to help the student behave better!  It is a strategy of using little moments with difficult students to help connect with them and give them that connection they need.

The 2 x 10 Strategy is something that was discussed by several teachers in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group (this group only excepts new members a couple of times of year, but there are other groups like this on Facebook, as well).  It was further explained by Angela Watson through a blog post that I highly recommend that you read for more details and discussion on this.

Simply put, the idea is that you talk to the student for two minutes a day for at least ten consecutive days in a row and let them talk about whatever they want for the whole time (with little input back from you…it is their time).

Too easy to be true?

Maybe…but think about it.  It is likely that these students almost never get this kind of attention and conversation from adult in their lives (or anyone else).  We crave this.  This is why we have friends.  This is why we spend time with family.  This is a part of the reason we need a planning period…to connect with other people.  It makes sense to think that students crave this, too, even if they don’t know it or how to vocalize it….so they get attention they way they know how…and we have already discussed that cycle!

This conversations are a way to cut the attention-seeking behavior short and help you build a lasting connection and rapport with students who may be wrecking class time from time-to-time, and instead they become one of your greatest allies in class.

I say it is worth a shot.

It is early in the year and there probably haven’t been major disruptions from these students yet.  Why not give this strategy a try?  What do you have to lose?  This is your chance to try something different by teaching smaller to help all of your students succeed in your class.  That is what you signed up to do, isn’t?  This is your year to do it better than ever!

Wonka

You really do make a difference and are an amazing teacher!  I do believe that this will be the best year ever for you.  Be awesome…and you are because you can’t help it!  Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Mondays, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

[put your teaching heart in] Drive


Dear Teacher,

You know, what we do is amazing.  We are teachers!  We get to help students become the people they will be in the future.  We get to live in the teachable moments of every day.  It is a pretty great line of work!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

I have shared it before, but last year was a tough year for me.  I won’t get into it now, however it was a difficult year with students and then to top of it test scores might have been the lowest for me.  Even though I felt like it may my best year as a teacher after working through the challenges, I can’t help but wonder if it was a net loss of a year.  I don’t know.

I share that because I stumbled on a great song accidentally because of Twitter (by the way, if you aren’t using Twitter, you should be…I am working on a post on the whys…if you are on it, you should be following Sean Gaillard, Remind, Dear Teacher (of course), among many others!).  Through a random set of events, I was introduced to the music of Shayna Leigh and the song I am about to share.  When I heard it, I knew that I found the perfect song for the first theme song post of the new year!  That said, let’s get to the encouragement!

If you aren’t familiar with how theme song posts work, click play on the song (get through any ads if they play first), and then start reading.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.  Let’s go!

We are teachers.

We carry so much with us from day to day, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

All careers have baggage, but probably none more than being a teacher.

We invest so much of who we are into what we do.

Sometimes it can be hard to recover from the hurt of some of the hard times that come with what we do.

That hurt can weigh us down and cause fear from stepping out to far outside of the box or outside of our comfort zone.

We fight against that fear, but it always seems to be there.  It is just on the periphery.  It stalks us.  It taunts us.  Occasionally, it overwhelms us.  Other times it drives us to push forward and do more.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

The anxiety does not define us, but it does hang out around us.

Some days and years are worst than others.

But there is a way to drive it away.

And it is so simple that it is hard to do.

Remember.

Remember who you were when you started teaching.

You were nervous, but when it came to students you were fearless.

Remember that new teacher that was ready to set the world on fire and change the future single-handedly!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

That person is still inside of you.  That person is still you.  You are still fearless.  You still have the fire.

Rekindle that fire and remember.

  • You believed every student mattered and you acted on that belief.
  • You did not care what other people thought, you did what counted most for students.
  • You did not worry about test scores because what really made the difference was your connection with students.
  • You focused on the teaching and learning process individually, not what you were being told worked best for all.
  • You let love and care for each of those people in your room drive your instruction and behavior.
  • You believed that what you did with each child truly made a difference.
  • You had confidence in yourself and your gifts/skills as a teacher.

All of those things are still true.  That never stopped being true.  The baggage of prior years and yesterdays mistakes do not define you.  Your drive and love for students does…and that is still there.  Remember it today!

Teacher, drive back to where you started.  That is where you live as a teacher.  And that is what will get you back on your feet to try again.

You are an amazing teacher!  Never forget that!  You are making a difference and what you do does matter!  It matters more than you know!  Keep on believing in yourself and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in Challenge, Choose Positive, General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Mondays, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk

The Surefire Way to Make Any Day Better (especially Mondays)


Dear Teacher,

We all have bad days.  We all have good days.  And we all have lots and loads of mediocre days that are just kind of “eh.”  That is just the way life goes, teacher or not.

I know I am stating the obvious, but the good days tend to be the ones we enjoy more.  Duh, right?  We get more done.  We are happier.  We feel more accomplished.  But the good ones are not the majority of the days of our lives…life gets in the way and chokes out days from being memorable, let alone good.

We are busy – so much to do and so little time.  So many responsibilities to stay ahead of as a teacher.  There is school life.  There is home life.  The needs of your family.  The needs of your students.  The needs of you.

Not to mention, bad stuff does happen to good people.  The smallest thing can send us in a downward descent from the pursuit of good days.

Stuff happens.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

It is not reasonable to think that most days can be good.  That is not realistic.  And perhaps it is one of the reasons that good days are so good…they are rare and a treasure to find.

I get that.  I do.  I have been around long enough to know that it is true.

But…what if we could make any day better?

I am not saying make every day a great day, but I am saying you can make any day better.  You can make bad days better days.  You can make “blah” days less, well, “blah.”  AND you can make good days great days!  Bonus: it isn’t even hard to do and it is pretty much a guarantee (most of the time)!

I can make any day better?  Please, do tell, Teacher.  What is this simple way to make every day better?

Yes you can and yes it is very simple.

Get ready for it.

Here it comes.

Drum roll, please.

You can make any day better by making someone else’s day better.

I bet you have heard this before, but it is true.  I can tell you from personal experience from practicing it in life, running this blog for the last couple of years, and using social media that helping others be encouraged, happy, or just less sad has the same effect on you as you do it.  And it does not matter what kind of day you are having.

When you reach out to others, it does something inside of you.  It lets you see a little more color in the world.  It helps you to take the blessings and curses in your life in a different way.  It gives you a fresh look at the world.  It makes you more glad for the things that make you glad and less sad about the things that make you sad.  It makes you feel, um, better, even if you where already feeling pretty good.

If you make a practice of trying to find ways to make the day better for other people, you’ll discover that most days are pretty good or close to really  good.  It’ s all about perspective.  It is about seeing life as more than just about you and what is going on in your life.  It is about being better to other people.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

The cool part is, the people whose day was made better turn and do the same for others.  Sometimes you even get to see Pay It Forward kind of miracles happen around you, especially with other teachers at school.

So what are some of the ways I can do this?

That is the best part, there are as many ways as there are people in the world…but I will give you a few ideas to try today.  These are the ones I try to practice most, especially on bad days:

  • Smile more.  Smiling does something inside of you that makes you feel a little happier, and the people you are smiling at feel a little better, too.
  • High-fives.  More high-fives.  Kid President talks about this often.  “Let’s live in a world with more high fives.”  I have been poked fun at for it before, but high-fives to make people feel better and helps you take yourself a little less seriously.  Give at least 10 high-fives today…I bet you will smile a little more (back to Thing 1 🙂 ).
  • Tell someone how awesome you think something they are doing is.  This one is guaranteed to make all involved feel better.  Have a conversation with another teacher about something you think is amazing about how they teach or interact with students and ask them about it.  Hey, this one counts as personal PD, too.  Score!
  • Write a note to someone just letting them know what you notice and like about them.  This one is great to do for other teachers and students.  I have written to all of my students and other teachers at the school in the last couple of years (over time…not all at once).  People really appreciate that.  I find that when I did that for the most difficult students (or teachers) it helped me appreciate them more and helped build rapport and relationships.  Write a note to a fellow teacher that needs encouragement today and one for a difficult student.  Even good days get better with this one!
  • Write a note to yourself.  This one is best on bad days.  Write about what is going right.  Write about how you are making a difference.  Tell yourself a joke to make you laugh.  Remind yourself of what makes you a good teacher and what you should be proud of about you.  Keep the note and make yourself read it from time to time.  Days will be made better, I promise.
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

There are many, many more, but this list will get you started.  Little things make the most difference.  I shared a video from Remind in the last post that was about the small things that teachers do that have the biggest effect on students.  They refer to it as “teaching small” and have an initiative called #teachsmall.  I love this concept so much, because it is so true.  I will talk about it in a future post (because my mind was blown by the idea), but I bring it up now because making students’ and other teachers’ days better are one of the small things that we do that are so important.

teachsmall2
Image Source: http://www.remind.com @RemindHQ

When you are having a better day, students are more connected to you and learning more.  Other teachers having better days has the same effect for them.  Most of all, when students are having a better day because of the influence of teachers, real learning happens and the world and future is changed for the better.  So teach small today, Teacher, and make your day and world better.

You are an amazing teacher, even on a bad day!  I know you try to make the best of every day…keep on doing that!  You are making a difference.  You are changing the world, I promise!  Keep on making days better and keep on teaching, Teacher!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
Posted in Challenge, Choose Positive, General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

Am I Wrong [when the test scores fail]


Dear Teacher,

I don’t know how your summer is going, but I have had quite a week.  I have had great family time, presented at a conference, and got a good jump on something I am planning for next year.  Overall, it has been a pretty exceptional week…but there is a heavy cloud hanging over me that I don’t know if I will shake for a while.

I found out how my students did on the state tests at the end of the year.

Needless to say, the scores were less than stellar.

Even though I thought that last year, by far, was my best as a teacher, the scores were lower than I think they have been for me.  Their are A LOT of factors in play here…more than there have ever been in a year of teaching for me…but I can’t help but feel like I failed my students a bit.

Something tells me I am not the only one in this boat.  Even if you don’t have your results back yet, I know you might be bracing yourself for the worse.

For this reason, I think it is time for a theme-song post.

I love these types of posts, and they always help me to gain perspective, and I hope it is the same for you.  For those new to this blog, click play, get past any ads that might be there, and then read on while the music plays.  You may want to go back and listen to the song and watch the video again after reading…I think I found the perfect song for today.

Let’s just start where it probably hurts the most…STOP DOUBTING YOURSELF!

You are a great teacher…nay, an amazing teacher.

Do not let the test scores make you think anything else.

You are bold and brave, and you care for your students like few others do.

You and I took risks this year.

We banked on what we know about our students, what we have learned about the learning process, and tried some outside of the box strategies.  Our kids were engaged.  They were learning.  They were becoming better students and better people.

We were courageous in one thing more than others.  We had the audacity to do something that seemed crazy in the high-stakes testing era…we didn’t focus on the test…we focused on each student.

We got to know each child in our classroom.  We tried to find their strengths and weaknesses.  We tried to accommodate every child and their needs, with or without a piece of paper that requires us to.  We differentiated.  We helped students to learn how to process content on their own.  We slowly gave the reigns of their learning over to them so that they could be responsible for learning.

We laughed with them.

We cried with them.

We helped them grow.

We watched them change throughout the year.

We know more about them than a test will ever show.  We saw students go from not wanting to try to begging for a chance to prove themselves.  We saw students who hated school become students who couldn’t wait for Monday to come when Friday was over.  We saw children become students and members of our school communities.  We saw growth on almost every level.  We saw magic.

We also saw the hurt that our students experience in and out of school.  We saw the difficulties that they face at home.  We saw pain.  We saw hunger.  We saw low self-esteem.  We saw challenges for children that we could not even imagine.  And we helped our students succeed despite all of this and helped them start to see how they can rise above it.  Yes, I need to say it again…we saw magic.

There is not a test made that can prove how our students went from kids barely ready for the grade that we teach to being ahead of the game for the grade they are going into next year.  There is not a test that takes into account the students that may have had to sleep at a friend’s house the night before the test or in a motel room because of something going on at home.  There is not a test that can show how students finally came alive at the end of the year after you working with them for 3 1/2 quarters before you saw any growth.

There is not a test that proves the magic that we saw.

So, we did not focus on a test that does not show students overcoming obstacles in their lives.  We focused on the child.  We believed in them.  We helped them strive in situations where everything was stacked against them.  We made magic happen…and that is hard to do while teaching to a test.

We made a conscientious decision to think about our students as more than numbers.  We decided that we want the students to know how to learn on their own and not need us there to help them after they leave our room.  We decided to take into account what they may me going through in life.  We decided to dig in and not give up on students that gave up on themselves.  We decided to believe in something bigger than ourselves and trust in the magic that can happen in our classrooms. 

Is that wrong?

Are we wrong?

Am I wrong?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I can think of living in a world, especially educational world, where this is wrong.  I chose to believe in my students and believe in educational magic.

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

So the test scores were not great.  Is that what really matters?  What can you look to that proves that there was more going on in your classroom than can be judged by the test?

Here is a test for you…with results to change your mood after learning about your state results:

  • Who is that student that was your your class that could not do anything on grade level and refused to try that ended the year trying their hardest just because you asked them to and they know you care?
  • Who is that student that you know had a rough go of it at home, but looked to your classroom as a sanctuary?
  • How did the atmosphere of the student interactions in your room change from being kids in your class to a classroom family?
  • How did each student you teach change from day 1 to day 180?
  • How did you grow as a teacher from day 1 to day 180?

Take some time and think through these questions.  Write down your answers if you journal.  I think that, if you do, you will start thinking less about your state scores (good or bad) and know how well you taught based on your students.  After all, aren’t they the reason that you are there?

You are not wrong, Teacher, and you are awesome!  Keep on believing your students matter more than scores.  I believe in you as you keep believing in them!  Keep on teaching, Teacher, and keep on making that magic happen!

Love, Teacher

 

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, You Are Awesome!!!

Show ‘Em Who You Are


Dear Teacher,

You have a gift.  You have something to say.  You have something to offer.  You have something that the world at-large needs.

You are not “just a teacher.”  You are a great teacher.  Nay, you are an amazing teacher!

You have a way of connecting with your students and getting them to connect with what they are learning.

You are special.

There is not a lot of teachers out there like you.  There just aren’t.  And that is a good thing.

You have something to teach others who teach.  You have something to give back to the good of education.

Don’t be afraid to share the something that makes you great.

You have a spark to share that might ignite others to greatness in teaching.

Do not keep it to yourself.

Be proud and share it.

You will be nervous at first, but as you see the effect of your spark you will see that it will set others and their teaching ablaze.

Don’t hold back.

Share that uniqueness that is you.

You are awesome, never forget it!

Keep on teaching and sharing how you teach with others, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
(c)DearTeacherLT2013 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

The Pantry List


DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Dear Teacher,

So, you had a rough year last year?  I hear you.  I was there, too.  The word “challenge” barely covers it.  It was quite a mix of difficulties all wrapped up into one not-so-glorious year.

But I survived.

And you survived.

And now that we have settled into summer a bit, it is time to do one last difficult thing related to last year…reflect.

Reflection is the key to growth and change as a teacher…especially after a tough class period, day, quarter, or year.  When we reflect, we take stock of what went right and wrong, what we need to change for the better, and what we can let go of.  The process can be painstaking, but it is therapeutic…and more than that, it is vital to making next year better.

As I was working through my own mental system of reflection today, I thought of a new approach to reflecting, but before I tell you about it, I need to tell you a story from this morning.  I need to tell you about breakfast.

It all starts with muffins…

I do my wife a favor in the mornings when I can and get our boys going.  This includes breakfast.

This morning, I decided to do a secondary favor.  We had some overripe bananas and she talked about making banana bread yesterday.  I had an epiphany…I can make banana muffins for breakfast!  So, I looked up some recipes.

There was a problem, however.

As it seems, you need certain ingredients to make said banana muffins…not all of which were present in our cupboards.  We had most of the staple products, but since today was shopping day some were missing.

You don’t know me that well, but if you did you would know that once I get an idea in my head to do something I do not give up easily.  So, I pushed on.  I know some recipe replacements, and I thought I knew enough to guess some others.

It was rough, but I was able to get something together that resembled batter…and I poured into the muffin tins and baked.

I had to keep adding a few minutes of time in the oven, but eventually they looked a lot like muffins.

I took them out.  I tried one…

Honestly, they were not the worse muffins I have ever had, and if you added butter they were not too bad.  They weren’t the best, but they were my muffins…and they would pass as breakfast.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

So…what the heck does this have to do with teaching and reflecting?

Every year, we start of with some pretty high goals for our students and ourselves.  We know that we have the basics that we come in with as teachers, but sometimes the ingredients in our classroom are not what we expected.  We do our best with what we have and we strive towards those goals.

We have to alternate plans.

We have to do things a little different than “the norm.”

We have to compromise.

We have to make do.

But in the end, though our results may not be exactly what we hoped for, we still have results.  Sometimes “kind of” results are okay.  We did what we could with the resources at hand, our skills, and some ingenuity.

They may not be the best results, but they are our results.

As we reflect, we need to look at how everything went and see the positive in what we had at the end.  Sometimes that can be more difficult than others that like to judge education will ever know, but they were not in our classroom and do not know our students.

Sometimes edible muffins are the best you can do with baking…and sometimes students getting through the year know more than when they started and able to learn more on their own than before are giant strides for the situation you are giving.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

And that brings us to the looking forward side of reflection…this is where my new approach to reflection comes in…

You have got to take a good, long look at your “teaching pantry.”  Ask yourself these hard questions and make a PANTRY LIST:

  • What really went well last year that you can go into the new year armed with?
  • What are your strengths as a teacher?
  • What strategies vibe up well with your teaching personality?
  • What is the upside to that teaching personality?
  • How do you connect with students best (both inside and outside of the content)?
  • What are your best improvs as a teacher?

These are the things currently in your pantry.  This is what you bring to the table.  These are what you can bank on being a part of you.

On the other side, you need to ask some harder questions and add these to your PANTRY SHOPPING LIST:

  • What did not go well last year that shows a skill that you may be lacking?
  • What is an aspect of teaching that is a weakness that is vital that you work on?
  • What is something that you would like to learn from a teacher you think is a great teacher?
  • What are ways that you know your classroom atmosphere needs to change?
  • What are some ways that you do not connect well with students?
  • What are your worst improvs as a teacher?

These are the things that you can work on this summer.  DO NOT MAKE THE SHOPPING LIST LONG!  Small steps get you in the right direction.  Do not think of these things as what you are bad at…think of them as things you would like in your teaching pantry.  Spend some time this summer making a “supply run.”  Pick something to read a book about.  Attend a PD session over the summer.  Find a teacher good at one of these things, buy her/him lunch or coffee, and pick their brain.  Make a plan for getting some new ingredients in the cupboard.  And don’t forget to rest!

I hope that this made sense!

What is in your teacher pantry?  What do you need to go shopping for?  Share here and perhaps we can all help you find some resources,

Teacher, you are amazingly awesome!  I bet you already reflect on this level and I am preaching to the choir.  If not, please don’t give up.  Your students and all of the other teachers need you!  You are amazing.  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher