Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to be a Marigold

I listen to a lot of podcasts and do a ton of reading in the educational sphere. In today's age of social media and technology, there is really no excuse for not bettering yourself professionally because so much information is at your fingertips at all times.

Awhile back, I heard about the concept of being a Marigold. I swear I heard Jen Gonzalez talk about it on her Cult of Pedagogy podcast, but I can't find the actual episode that I heard it in (short of going back and listening to them all to find it). 

In short, she notes that marigolds are the perfect garden companion plant because "If you plant a marigold beside most any garden vegetable, that vegetable will grow big and strong and healthy, protected and encouraged by its marigold. Marigolds exist in our schools as well – encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity" (Jen Gonzalez, 2013). 

This past week, my TA (teacher's assistant...one step down from student teaching) told me that in their seminar class, which helps them unpack and process what they are learning in the classroom with their cooperating teacher (CT), their university supervisor was talking about finding your marigold. She said the supervisor asked the group (of about 12-14 TAs) to raise their hand if they thought their CT was a marigold. There are 5 TAs in my school and she said she was the only one who raised her hand :)

Now, I am not knocking my colleagues at all. Everyone approaches the mentoring role in their own way. I had three CTs of my own and none of them were stellar. I mean, they weren't horrible (well, one was) but I learned what not do to from them as well. So I have vowed that whenever I have hosted a student teacher, I would be sure to be as nurturing and uplifting as possible while also sharing the realities of what it means to be a teacher in today's world.

And let's be honest...it isn't always cupcakes and flowers. Sometimes it is downright crappy. Long hours, little pay, total disrespect from most of society. It can get old sometimes. But then, you have those moments when you FINALLY reach that tough-to-reach kid and it makes it all worth it. Or a parent thanks you for being your tenacious self because she knows you are fighting for HER child in a way she doesn't know how to do. Those are the moments that keep me in the profession...because I know that despite the downs that come with the job, the ups are so much more powerful. 

Teaching is truly a calling. It is not "a job" and should not be gone into without a solid understanding of the battles you will face politically (especially now). 

To me...that makes being a marigold even more important. I am realistic with my interns. I tell them that sometimes teaching is really kind of horrible. But mostly, it is awesome. You get to do something different every day, every year because the kids are different, the parents are different. It is never the same from day-to-day and the opportunity you have to grow and make a difference changes too. That's pretty powerful. 

How do you get to be a marigold? Be positive. Be affirming. Be genuine. Most of all, be honest. Some days are hard and that is not only normal but it is also okay. No one is perfect. Everyone (even veterans like myself) still have room to grow. Nurture those new teachers; give them an uplifting boost when they are struggling, give them guidance when a strategy they tried didn't work, suggest a new technique if you think it will help them. Don't tell them they are doing everything wrong, that will help no one. Be a listening ear. Be supportive. Most of all, be a friend. Don't talk about them behind their backs, don't stick your nose in their business if it doesn't concern you. Sometimes just being there, being real and honest is all that those upcoming teachers need.

Be a marigold, not a walnut tree.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Are you Listening?

Back in the fall of 2013, just before I earned my National Board Certification, I became a consultant for Thirty-One Gifts. As a teacher it was just natural to sell the bags that I had found so much use for. Very quickly I promoted up to senior consultant with two girls selling under me and I earned my way to their National Conference in July of 2014.

While I ultimately decided that selling bags wasn't for me (mostly due to the fact that I began my doctorate and had zero time--or real interest--in holding parties to sell the product required to stay active), there is something that has stuck with me since that conference. Surprisingly, it keeps coming back up. 

There were many speakers during the event. I can't remember most of them (although LeAnn Touhy of The Blind Side fame sticks out as does Lisa Harper), but many of their words stuck with me. One of them said the most important question to ask yourself every day is 

Are you listening?

Doesn't seem that profound, does it? But it is.

Especially in our current politically divided time, listening is even more important. You should, at the very least, believe that children are listening. They are probably better listeners than adults are because they do not have as many things distracting them on a daily basis. Children absolutely listen to things we say to them, to each other and to what they see on television.

Last weekend, I was in Los Angeles, California attending the 2nd Teacher Powered Schools Conference. It had been raining cats and dogs before I got there but was beautiful while I was there. Sunny and between 70-75 degrees the days I was there. It was fabulous for a teacher from the midwest to experience that in the middle of January! 

I'm also very fortunate that my cousin, known affectionately as SuperDan (because, well, he IS super), lives in LA, not even 5 minutes from the hotel the conference was at. He was very kind and showed me around the city while I wasn't immersed in the conference. (It isn't very often a Michigan girl can claim to have had a dissertation committee meeting from Malibu beach, huh? But I did it!)

On Friday, January 27, we were at his apartment getting ready to head to Malibu when I called the teenagers back home. Middle Child has Asperger's and worries incessantly, especially about me. (It probably doesn't help that I have traveled more in the past three years than I have in her entire life.) So I sat at the dining table and called home and had a few minute conversation with both teens separately and then hung up to get ready for the beach. SuperDan commented that he could tell that I actually talk to my kids. 

I was kind of taken aback by that at first and asked what he meant. He doesn't have children but says he pays a lot of attention to people who do and how those kids interact with other adults. He said the fact that I had a two-way conversation with both of my teens, where it was obvious they were also responding and asking me questions too, was refreshing because so often he sees kids/teens who do not know how to really hold their own in a conversation.

I hadn't really considered that perspective before. I suppose, as a teacher, who gets paid who talk all the time, it is natural for me to have conversations with children. But, the more I have thought on our conversation, the more I have paid attention to what is going on around me. I have noticed my own words more as I speak to my students, but also how they speak to each other. 

Naturally this brought me back to those profound words: Are you listening? 

Today the words came back again. I was at the grocery store. Terrible place to be on Super Bowl Sunday, right after the church hour. (What was I thinking??) It was very busy and crowded. I was in no hurry though so I didn't mind much. As I was pushing my way up and down the aisles, I noticed a little boy, probably between 14-18 months old standing up in the basket of the cart being pushed by--I assume--his dad. As children this age are prone to do, he let loose a string of adorable non-words as he gazed out at the store around him. Had this been my child, or my grandson, I would have talked back to him, perhaps replying with something like "Really? What are you talking about?" or even "Goodness, tell me more!" to let him know that his practice talk is a good thing.

What I heard instead was "hey, no one is talking to you, be quiet." I'm sure you have figured out if you've read this blog for any length of time (or you know me personally), that it is pretty difficult to render me speechless. But this statement did. Now, let me be very clear: my intent here is not to shame this father or act like I am somehow superior to him. I just believe I am in a position to notice these things and in light of recent conversations and experiences am more sensitive to someone speaking to a child like this.

Have you ever reflected on a lesson or an interaction with a student and wished you hadn't said something that you did? Maybe you were unintentionally sarcastic or what you meant to say came out sounding so much ruder than it did in your head. We have all experienced those things before. And I would bet that you could name several occasions where someone's careless speech has made you feel bad. You probably wouldn't even have to think very hard about it. Words cut deep a lot of the time. (So much for that childhood saying of "words will never hurt me"....all lies. Words DO hurt.)

As it stands, this interaction with the little boy and his father that I observed from afar just brought this all back to the front of my mind. How often do we say things to our children--or each other--that we really don't mean because we aren't present in the moment? Because we are distracted by whatever we are doing? Because we are too caught up in whatever frivolous thing has caught our attention? 

I go back to my previous point. You should, at the very least, believe that children are listening. They are probably better listeners than adults are because they do not have as many things distracting them on a daily basis. Children absolutely listen to things we say to them, to each other and to what they see on television. 

While this little boy has likely already forgotten this exchange, what if he was four? Five? Seven? Twelve? Whether we like it or not, kids are listening. They are learning how to be good human beings by the examples they see around them. If they are always shushed or admonished for speaking, they will remember. They will suffer for that.

As I think back on my career, I can readily recall the children who are obviously spoken to like people and those who are spoken down to. It is very obvious by their interactions with their peers and the adults around them. 

Perhaps if we adults stopped being distracted, lived more fully present in the moment and were a bit more careful with our words toward our children, they would all grow up to be better people. Chances are...so would we. 

Are you listening? 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

STEM Goodness {Video}

Hi friends! Happy February!

The past month has been a whirlwind to say the very least. We have been keeping ourselves pretty busy in 3rd grade. I have enjoyed a weekend away in Los Angeles for the 2nd Teacher Powered Schools Conference and not enjoyed a cold both before AND after the conference (fortunately it was gone while I was away--must've been the sunshine and warm weather!). 

At any rate, recently I had a Donor's Choose grant fully funded and we got our materials just before I went on my trip to LA. I asked for a STEM bundle that includes 8 different kits from Lakeshore Learning. 

This past Friday we did our first STEM challenge as part of our Fun Friday (it was still fun but they were also learning -- win/win!). The kids are adorably hilarious as they test their design. They literally cheer when it doesn't fall down after the required 20 seconds. (I was surprised it held up because if you look carefully it does almost topple when they put the last figure on.)

Check it out: