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Posted by on in General

pool

I nearly drowned as a second grader! A couple of the other kids had their arms around our coach as she walked closer to the deep end of the pool. I followed closely behind her. But before I knew it, I could no longer bob up and down and touch the bottom of the pool with my toes. I panicked and tried desperately to keep my head above water. At the moment before I knew my life was about to end, I looked up into the stands and saw my mom motioning to me to put my head down and swim. “Swim, Sandy!” she yelled. I looked to the side of the pool, and my coach was doing the same thing. No one was running to save me! “Swim, Sandy!” their blended voices hollered. It wasn’t the most graceful American crawl, I’m sure. But, I did make it to the side of the pool and am still alive to tell the story. 

I’ve often thought about this experience when I’ve faced changes and challenges throughout my career. When I start to feel a little overwhelmed or some self-doubt, I hear the voices in my head saying, “Swim, Sandy!” I know then that I need to FOCUS and swim! It isn’t always pretty getting to the side for a breather, but I make it. My coaches don’t jump in and rescue me, but I know they’re on the side cheering me on because they believe that I’ll be successful. As a result, I have a stronger sense of self-efficacy. There is a need for some basic knowledge, but the application of what I’ve learned is up to me. 

“Jumping into the deep end of the pool” can be a little scary, but it’s also where we’ll experience the most growth. Being in the deep end of the pool forces us to leave our comfort zones and apply our new learning. While many educators heed the advice of starting small when it comes to change, I’ve always jumped in and have swum for my life. It's even been a joke that I'll figure things out as I'm doggy paddling. I’ve grown very comfortable with being uncomfortable. Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes is part of who I am. It’s part of my creative spirit. Although I can envision where I need to go and want to be, I don’t always know the “how-to’s, ” and that’s where there’s risk-taking. It’s often through play, experimentation, and collaborating with others that the best ideas come about and benefit kids.

Regardless of whether educators jump in the deep end of the pool or start at the shallow end, the point is to move forward and start making the changes that our kids deserve. It seems that our profession is the only one where those who remain stagnant are allowed to keep their jobs. We would never go to a doctor or dentist who was not current with the most updated medical practices. We would never board a plane of an untrained pilot and seek advice from a lawyer who did not know the current laws. Businesses that don't continually change and adapt go out of business. Yet, educators who have children's lives on the line, continue to hold onto old mindsets and traditions. 

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

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 No matter where you look on social media, you will undoubtedly see posts about how happy people are to see 2016 come to an end. The year was marred by issues of violence and brutality in all areas of our country, deaths of many people who contributed to society, the election of a demagogue to serve as our president, and too many other occurrences to list. It is easy to see why so many people are eager to watch the calendar flip to a new year.

I understand it, but I don't agree with it. 2016 was an interesting year for all of us. It was even more so for me. This was the year that I became fully awake. I immersed myself in the issues that we are experiencing in our world. I became more educated so that I could bring these lessons to the students and staff in my buildings. I stepped my game up and started tackling issues and questioning on a much more public level. It has not always been easy or well-received, but I committed to being awake and working to awaken others.

I appreciate 2016 for all that it has done. I recognize that 2017 brings a lot of uncertainty. Nobody quite knows what direction our country and world will move after January 20. We have no clue how the events of 2016 will impact us at home or in our schools. This can create fear and trepidation, but we must not succumb to that. Instead, we must be more brazen, more steadfast, and more daring to do everything we can for our families, our communities, and our students.

This is why my one word for 2017 is awake. I am a lot of things, but I am an educator first and foremost. This extends to my family, my students, my staff, my community, my social media networks, and wherever else I can make a positive impact. Last year was the tip of the iceberg for me. I am awake and plan on doing everything in my power to create positive change in our world.

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Posted by on in Leadership

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There I was, standing in the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center staring in awe at the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting while listening to the story of Pickett's Charge with my students. Hearing the story of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, with more than 51,000 casualties, immediately made my head spin. 

Events of this magnitude are hard for us to fathom. At one point, I turned to my students and we started to discuss how people were willing to take such a hard stand and fight and die for the freedom of others. Imagine seeing the oppression and abuse from slavery and finally deciding that this was not acceptable. What goes through the minds of people upon realizing that they may die to obtain liberty for a group of people that they do not identify with?

While there were people ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to change the lives of others, surely there were others who were not willing to get involved. What were these people doing during these times of struggles? Were they sitting home nestled in the safety of their carefully crafted reality ignoring what was unfolding around them? Did they lean toward one side or did their opinions reflect a more ambiguous mindset? What did their silence say about them?

Here we are in 2016, over 153 years removed from the Battle of Gettysburg and the looming end of the Civil War and slavery. We are still witnessing acts of violence and intolerance directed towards people who are minorities in our country. We have a president-elect who continues to stoke the flames of hatred and inequality by appointing a self-proclaimed racist as his chief strategist, who owns stock and has financial interests in a company trying to push our indigenous brothers and sisters off their land, and who continues to appoint individuals to positions of power that have histories of standing against what America stands for. 

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Posted by on in Leadership

making a

Classroom teachers can either (1) wait for change, or (2) go out and contribute to it. I encourage teachers to choose the latter. In most districts (yes, there are exceptions), I don’t think teachers realize how powerful their voices/actions can be. The majority of administrators with whom I have worked would love nothing more than for significant change to start with those who are in the trenches.

Based on my experiences as a former fourth grade teacher, here are five ways for teachers to make a district-wide impact: 

  1. Exude contagious excitement: Get genuinely excited about what you have to offer, which should come naturally if your ideas are valuable. This concept may sound simple, but if you are enthusiastic about the possibilities then others will be as well. If it is boring for the teacher it is boring for the students, and if it is boring for one teacher it is boring for other teachers. When I was in the classroom, I was able to impact students from across my district by actively talking about philosophies and resources with teachers and administrators while in the hallways, during staff outings, while at the gym, and even when attending weddings.
  1. “Use” your key players: Just like administratorsadmin need to get the right people on board when promoting change, so do teachers. Short story: About a handful of years ago, I came across The Daily Five, a book/structure for balanced literacy. This was a resource from which I knew many of the students and teachers from my district could benefit. So, I made sure it found its way into the hands of one of the “strong voices” in my school, the Instructional Support Teacher (IST). Now, roughly five years later and two years after I have left the district, some form of The Daily Five is being implemented in almost every classroom across the district’s seven elementary schools.
  1. Contact administrators: As a fourth grade teacher, I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I wrote an email to a central office administrator, but then decided not to hit send for fear of overstepping my boundaries and being “annoying.” I did not want to create this impression that I thought what I was doing was so important it warranted contacting my Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, etc…My advice, send those emails. There is a lot more to gain than to lose. Also, now that I am an administrator, if a teacher regularly contacts me I view it as ambition, not annoyance. After all, what you are doing is important.
  1. Seek external validation: Presenting at conferences (and possibly winning an award or two) can assist in opening up doors for students. From a personal standpoint, some of my efforts directly contributed to my classroom’s transformation. In a district of ten schools, my students were the first to (1) be provided iPads, and (2) implement BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). In both areas, I was then granted opportunities to use our experiences as the basis for professional development for other teachers, both in and out of district. While some may view conference presentations and/or awards as self-serving, there are definitely ways to leverage these accomplishments to benefit countless students and teachers.
  1. Educate yourself: For my first four years teaching fourth grade, I thought math was my “weakest subject.” So, one summer, I dedicated a great deal of my time to studying inquiry-based mathematics and the work of John van De Walle. As a result, thereafter, my math classes/instruction looked drastically different, and I believe my students learned to truly understand and appreciate math. In addition, while serving on the district’s Math Curriculum Committee I found myself in a position to lead the planning and creation process for the Common Core Mathematics professional development across the elementary level. As I have said before, “Be the expert you’d want to have at your school…Go out and keep on educating yourself no matter what it takes!” 

Please keep in mind, these five approaches are what “worked” for me, and mileage may vary based on context. Nonetheless, I would be willing to bet these ideas could, at the very least, serve as a starting point for teachers in any district.

If you are a teacher, no matter where you are, I encourage you to do everything in your power to expand your reach. While the students in front of you are top priority, there is no reason why your entire district (and more) cannot benefit from what you have to offer.

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