Saturday, January 28, 2017

Let Go of the Results

Teaching is daily investment in dozens, even hundreds of lives. 

Our investment in our students does not guarantee 100% returns. 

  • Our offers of kindness are spurned, or mocked.
  • We give: time, help, supplies, kindness. Instead of gratitude, it's taken for granted, and we are expected to give more and more and more.
  • We provide an opportunity to redo past failures, but they let us down again.
  • All our "blood, sweat and tears" come to nothing when a student moves, quits school, or goes to jail.

What do you do when your hopes are dashed?

Some will turn cynical. They will quit investing in lives, quit caring, quit believing. It's easy to understand; you've been burned too many times.

Some will torment themselves with guilt, thinking, "I should have...". That is easy to understand, too. Their failures become our failures when we invest ourselves in them.

Is there another option?


Continue to give. Continue to believe. Continue to offer hope, love, grace, second, third, fourth, and seventy-seventh chances. Maintain your passion. Look at each student as an individual. Invest 100% and more.

Let go of the results.
Let go.

You cannot control the outcome, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.

When we care deeply about our students, their failures and betrayals hurt; it becomes personal. That doesn't change. I've shed tears over students; I am guessing that you have too.

Even in the midst of your grief, let go of the results. They aren't up to you. 

As a teen in English class, I contemplated these lines in Tennyson's in "In Memoriam A. H. H."


The joy is in the memory, the investment, the gift of love, the journey. I have many cherished relationships: family, friends, church, colleagues, students, neighbors. Would I rather not have known them than to sorrow when I lose them? Never! The relationships are worth it!

Teachers, we MUST continue to believe, to hope, to care, regardless of the results. 

  • What are the greatest joys and deepest sorrows you've experienced in your teaching career?
  • How do you invest in your students?
  • Can you overcome cynicism and guilt?

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Won't Give Up, Will You?

During the first week of school two years ago I overheard this comment: "My sister says that if she (referring to me) gives me any ****, she will come in and **** her!"

If those "terms of endearment" were any indication, I was in for an interesting year!

Relationships require forgiveness.

"Sarah" came to class each day defiant. She swore at the drop of a hat, pushed for her own way, antagonized her classmates, and kept us from any moments of peace. But Sarah wasn't alone. She had several accomplices, students who were determined to disrupt, cause chaos, and demonstrate their independence and self-importance.

Each day was a challenge. Several times I deflected fights, and once had to have assistance for other teachers when Sarah and two other girls shouted obscenities and threats at one another.

All my attempts failed, at least with Sarah and company.

Relationships require patience.

One of my best assets in the classroom is patience. I believe that I am good at being patient, offering second, third, fourth (and more) opportunities. Each day I try to make a new roadway to a relationship, not compromising classroom procedures or expectations, but communicating the value of each student. By faith, I extend trust and care.

Relationships require determination.

That year I was continually rebuffed and often maligned. My best intentions were questioned and scorned. I have to admit, I felt defeated. I can usually win kids over in 180 days. Not this year, apparently...
Sometimes relationships are "one-way only".

Two years later, Sarah is in my class again. I begin the process again, but this year it is easier. She smiles and laughs, not maliciously. We work together each day, and Sarah demonstrates great growth: she socializes with others, works hard, is respectful in her conversation. Sarah has her moments, but they no longer define her.
Relationships require time.

In class one day, I was relating a story. In typical Sarah fashion, she interrupted with a loud comment,

"Why are you so calm? 
Do you think it's because...?"

Sarah had noticed. I had managed to make an impact. It just took time to nurture. 

Too often, I think, we give up on our students. If they "burn bridges" too many times, we deem them "incorrigible" or unworthy of our efforts.

We cannot give up! 

Our belief in that student may be the one thing that affects him/her later.

Sometimes, we have to let relationships be one-way. Sometimes we have to be content to give and not receive in return. Sometimes we have to end with a "Loss".

But, can't we hold on anyway? Can't we extend grace for another day, week, month, year? We don't know how sparsely a fire may be smoldering, but rather than dump water on it, let's give it air and time.

I won't give up,
Will you?
Sarah gave me this picture at Christmas this year. It's a simple gift with a lot of meaning, don't you think?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

I choose Integrity!

Here I stand before the open door...

2017 is beckoning me forward.

How will I live in this new year? 


Google defines integrity as "the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness".

Every day I am faced with choices to make. Some choices are easy and cost little; others come with a greater cost. Do I really believe what I say I believe, or is it something to be discarded when it becomes inconvenient? Fully aware of the cost, I choose INTEGRITY.

C.S. Lewis fleshes out the definition: "Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching".

Both public and private choices carry weight, and all carry consequences. A careless word can pierce a heart. Inaction can cause grievous consequences for someone in an untenable situation. Selfish choices can wound a relationship or destroy a trust. Fully aware of the consequences, I choose INTEGRITY.

Tony Dungy: "Integrity. The choice between what's convenient and what's right".

Sometimes, choices are simply more convenient. And I have a wheelbarrow full of excuses and justifications: No one will know or care. I don't have time. I'm too tired. He will never say anything. Other people are doing it. Maybe it's not really that important. Fully aware of the temptations to come, I choose INTEGRITY.

In 2017 I want to choose what's right, 

whether everyone is watching or no one is watching. 


  • What word will you choose?
  • What word do you want to define you?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Twelve Little Gifts, Thirteen Melted Hearts

(NOTE: This photo and story are from last Christmas. I couldn’t write it last year because the emotion was too raw.)

My 8th period Spanish 1 class keeps me on my toes; I’ve determined that we are together at the end of the day, not for Spanish (though we do that, too), but for “Life”. Twelve young men and women and I are learning how to navigate life together, facing our difficulties and finding ways to overcome them.

We learn how to behave in a classroom setting. It should be obvious, but I’m learning not to assume. What is most important, and why? How does your behavior affect your academic success? How does your behavior affect others?

We learn how to work with each other, and this requires extensive training. At times it’s like “Boot Camp”: training, retraining, practice, retraining, a few more gray hairs, practice, retraining, repeat.
  • This is how you ensure that everyone can take part
  • This is how you express opinion without tearing down your classmate
  • This is WHY you learn to work with others

We learn the importance of completing tasks, and completing them well. Responsibility is learned, not ingrained, Responsibility is a key to academic success, but also to committing to family and friends, keeping a job, and ensuring that your money doesn’t end before your month. (To read about my “responsibility experiment,” see this previous post: "Am I Holding Their Hands or Holding Them Accountable? )

We learn how to read, in two languages. We learn how to craft thoughtful answers. We learn how to write sentences, tell a story, add detail, edit (in two languages). We learn how to give our BEST effort.

These rowdy, impulsive 9th graders have stolen my heart. As a whole, they have so many needs: broken families, hurting hearts, fears visible and invisible, poverty, learning disabilities, insecurities, and more. Who tells them that they are important? Valuable? Capable? Loved?

Surely I am not the only voice of love in their lives, but I can’t be positive. So, I’ll make my impact as great as I can. I must treat them with love, with patience, with dignity, with belief, with high expectations.

This Christmas I want to share with them love and joy. My husband helps me prepare 12 gift packages: gloves, socks, pencils and pens, stickers, candy canes, homemade cookies.

I have to admit that my hands and my heart trembled when I brought out the packages for them: would they laugh? Would they reject them? Would they suspect me of ulterior motives (I assure you, there are none).

The kids let out a collective shout--they laughed with surprise and with joy.

They examined their gifts as if it were the “mother lode,” they examined every item, they showed each other, they celebrated with and for each other. Many put on the socks right away. Others had their gloves on through the remainder of the class. A few ate cookies; most began setting aside items that they were going to share with friends and family.

They hugged me and I hugged them. They cheered, and I tried not to cry in front of them. They wrote me letters and emails. One parent sent me an email the same day; another sent me an actual card and letter.

I left humbled and undone by unexpected emotion and gratitude. The gifts, though simple, have stirred my students’ hearts, and they have melted mine.

How much these students need--and though I think Spanish is important, there is so much more that I must share:
  • Patience
  • Self-control
  • Peacemaking
  • Happiness as a choice
  • Cooperation and collaboration
  • Self-respect and respect for others
  • Responsibility, hard work, pride in one’s work
  • Leadership and servant-ship

This is teaching; this is why I am here.

I pray that I never forget.

<A year has passed since those Christmas packages. Even as I write now, I have a lump in my throat. Many of those students still come to see me regularly. Their needs are still great. But perhaps I’ve given them hope. I know that they have done so for me. Though the journey will not always be easy, I will believe in and love my students. It is the least, and the most, that I can do!>

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Yawn, Fidget, Cringe: "Professional Development"?

We've all been there: yawning, fidgeting, cringing--it's "Professional Development"!

By Revital Salomon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On many occasions I have suffered through "Professional Development," and on other occasions I was the one inflicting the suffering. Professional development isn't always bad, boring or irrelevant; sometimes it's downright fascinating! Regardless of the quality, we all have a responsibility to put the "Professional" in the "Development".

How should we treat "Professional Development"?

Administrators and Professional Development Planners:

  • Refrain from using PD as a punitive measure. If you have staff members with "issues," address these individually; don't create a PD to blanket the entire staff with topics meant for one or two.
  • Communication is essential; no one should have to guess why this PD is taking place. Well ahead of time, clearly articulate what you are asking staff to learn/do, and why. Is this something required by the state? Does this address an area of weakness in the school performance profile? Do you feel it is relevant to topics our students are facing?
  • Utilize the professionals in your building(s). Are your experienced teachers involved in planning and presentation? What expertise do they have that they could share?
  • Consider giving PD options to your staff; trust them to choose what is most necessary, relevant or interesting to them.
  • Participate in PD alongside, not over, your staff. If you feel the PD is necessary for your building(s), join with your staff in the training, and be an invested participant.
  • Treat  your teachers as professionals, even if/when they don't behave that way. Model professionalism.

Teachers (and sometimes PD presenters):

  • Professional Development is a Professional opportunity; behave like a Professional. It's not time to grade papers, text friends, carry on a conversation, or critique the presenter. Even if you do not like or appreciate the PD, it is your responsibility to attend and learn. Set an example for your colleagues.
  • Commit to learning. Whether the PD is a training mandated by your district, part of advanced degree work, or a pursuit of interest, approach it with a learner's attitude: what can I take away from this and apply?
  • Respect the presenter(s). Make eye contact. Nod. Refrain from scowling or shaking your head in disagreement. (You can address areas of conflicting opinion personally, not in public.) Thank the presenter for his/her time. 
  • Experienced teachers: be willing to be involved. Avoid cynicism and criticism--in yourself or in your colleagues. Care. Model the learning attitude you desire in your students. A new teacher is not an "annoying know-it-all". He/She may have valuable information and skills to share. Besides, being a listener is a great way to establish a relationship in which you can contribute to the new teacher.
  • Newer teachers: be willing to be involved, and be willing to be a learner. Avoid the all-knowing smug look. An experienced teacher is not a "cave man" just because his/her tactics differ from your current training. "New" is not always "Better".

Together we can give new meaning to both words:



Let's Do This!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Forging Friendships and Unity

"You know, Señora, we are all friends today because you made us work together."

At our senior dinner my students told me, "You know, Señora, we are all friends today because you made us work together". 

There have been times that I have despaired. The students assigned to my class came unwillingly, unhappily. At times they were hostile, and sometimes even violent--throwing both insults and fists. They didn't like themselves, didn't like each other, didn't like Spanish, didn't like school. I felt like a lone firefighter, rushing in different directions to extinguish one flame after another.

Each year's classes and students are unique. Each class develops a personality as it develops a routine. It's my responsibility to shape that identity, and it takes conscious effort and determination.

Students gravitate toward their friends and toward classmates with whom they have the most in common--don't we all? If I let them, the students would choose partners at the beginning of the school year and they would never change. Some students would never work with anyone, choosing to be alone while surrounded by their peers.

So, why do I force group work, and why do I force them into new (and sometimes uncomfortable) groups?

Students' first choices aren't always their BEST choices. 

They naturally gravitate to their friends, but often this leads to distractions. Conversations and minds wander, and students' work suffers. At other times, students will do less than their best work because they rely too heavily on a friend, or because they don't want to look "too smart" in front of their friends. Peer pressure is intense.

Strengths and weaknesses remain the same if unchallenged. 

When the students work with the same people time after time, their work becomes predictable as well. Jim knows that Sarah can read this paragraph, so he can let her tell him what it says. Emily doesn't have to figure out how to write that sentence; she can just copy Tim's answer, "because he's good at it". Jamie and Tony don't know and don't care; they can't and won't learn Spanish.

Students have different ways of thinking and understanding. 

When they work in different groups, all receive exposure to how their classmates process information and learn to use it. They can help each other learn, understand, apply. The students become coaches simply by sharing their learning processes.

Weaknesses can become strengths. 

Joe rushes through every assignment because it's easy. He makes careless mistakes but understands in general. Cara is cautiously slow because she is not confident. When they work together, Cara ask questions and Joe has to take his time to think and explain. He helps her to gain confidence and skill; she helps him to improve accuracy and attention to detail.

The "real world' is waiting, and my students have to be ready. 

They must be able to work with others, regardless of personality, strengths and weaknesses, attitude. My students must know how to communicate, to coach, to ask questions, to accomplish a task, and how to bring out the best in themselves and in each other.

If this is as important as I say, then I have to be deliberate and persistent; I can't stop insisting on new groupings, regardless of their protests or pleadings. Admittedly, it's easiest to say, "With a partner...". (Note to self: I've been letting this slide lately.)

At the beginning of the year I devoted significant time to establishing class norms. For our classes, "Norms" are what we need to succeed: from the teacher, from our classmates, from ourselves. The students spent considerable time drafting their ideas, sharing and comparing, and then selecting the most important items. When they finished, I gave each student a typed copy, along with a few of my own suggestions. This is one of the most important:

Friendship is not necessary to be coworkers:

you have a mutual goal.

You can view our final Class Norms with these links:

This year I printed seating charts with a notation: "Students are encouraged to move around the room and sit with different people each day." Three of my six classes have really taken this to heart, and I have seen a lot of growth:
  • The Spanish 5 students began the year creating their own class norms: a word web about "Familia" (in Spanish V we are now family). These dozen students continually ensure that all are welcomed and heard, and they have extended this care to a Spanish exchange student who regularly comes to visit. I'm so proud of them all!

  • In Spanish 4 last week, the students were in groups of 3-5 to accomplish a task. One group of close friends was not working well together and knew it. Making a difficult decision, they chose to part ways and join other groups. Their task was accomplished; their friendship remains intact. I am excited by their maturity and wisdom.
  • My lunchtime class of Spanish 3 impresses me daily. They move around the room, often with one friend, and they work together to accomplish the day's tasks. None of them tries to be the lone holdout, and we have yet to have a conflict between students. 

  • Two classes of Spanish 3 and one class of Spanish 4 have become "habituated," stationing themselves in the same places, and working with the same people. I need to shake them from this lethargy.

"It's funny. We are all so different, but here we all get along."

How do you help students to stretch out of their comfort zones?

What advantages / disadvantages do you see to continually changing seating arrangements?

What are your favorite activities to build / promote classroom unity?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Twitter for Education? Yes!

I was not a Twitter fan. 

In a graduate class about technology in education I was required to make an account and find people to follow. At that time, I felt overwhelmed with Twitter's immensity, and underwhelmed by the posts that I found. Consequently, the account sat idle after fulfilling the course requirements.

Two years later I attended the Pennsylvania Keystones Technology Innovators Summit, and there began to discover Twitter's value. I found passionate educators who shared resources, experiences and inspiration, and I experienced Twitter chats about educational topics. This was a turning point in my professional development and in my view of "frivolous" social media. 

I developed a PLN (professional learning network), and that group of people and organizations helped to increase my desire to learn and grow, to take risks and try new things, to reflect and to share my reflections. 

Two years later (that's pretty funny, right?) I finally gathered enough boldness to share my view of Twitter with my colleagues. It began with an email to the faculty in my building: Would anyone be interested in learning more about using Twitter for PD? The responses came in quickly, and before the first session a dozen educators had expressed interest in pursuing the topic with me.

Our school has an open PLC (professional learning community) policy: 20 minutes at the beginning of the day are set aside for educators to pursue their interests. Twitter PLC began three Thursdays ago.

Session 1: Why use Twitter? How do I begin? Whom do I follow? (Click here to look at our agenda and resources: Twitter for PD 1.) I felt that the most important objective was to show them Twitter's value for educators. Here are some of the things that we discussed:
  • Develop a PLN (Professional Learning Network)
  • Encourage and/or be encouraged
  • Find teaching, classroom management ideas
  • Share resources
  • Connect and collaborate with other educators anywhere
  • Participate in chats about topics of interest
  • Acquire infographics
  • Learn more about educational technology
  • Stay informed about current news, educational updates
  • Conduct formal/informal research
  • Find relevant reading material
  • Connect to and read blogs: reflective pieces that challenge and encourage
  • Share what you are learning
  • Ask and answer questions
  • Enroll in contests, giveaways, trials of new apps/games
  • Sign up for free PD courses, edcamps
  • Subscribe to newsletters, blogs, classroom ideas
  • <announcements, connecting with parents and/or students> *These are bracketed because I haven't tried them yet.

In the intervening week: I tried to connect with each person on Twitter, and then to suggest people/groups to follow, share resources, infographics, links to blogs, contests, etc. In other words, I wanted to prove that I meant what I said about Twitter's value.

Some teachers didn't want to continue, but that's okay. Life is busy and we constantly have to prioritize.

Session 2: How do you Tweet? What do you Tweet? Why use a hashtag #? Could we create our own school #? (Click here to look at our agenda and resources: Twitter for PD 2.) Participants created Tweets and used #MASHPD to see how we could follow school conversations. I also shared accounts that they might like to follow. Everyone left with a Twitter Tweasure Hunt to complete, and two weeks to work on it.

In the intervening two week period: The Twitter PLC participants are working in teams to complete a Twitter Tweasure Hunt, with the winners receiving a Tim Horton's breakfast during our final PD session in November. I created the Tweasure Hunt using Google Sheets. It's designed to serve as an introductory guide to developing a professional profile, finding and connecting with a PLN, and beginning conversations about educational topics. (Click here to view the Twitter Tweasure Hunt)

Session 3: In Session 3 we will learn about the many educational chats available on Twitter, participate in an educational "slow chat," and learn about Tweet Deck.

Session 4: We will participate in our own Twitter chat from our classrooms/offices.

I'm hoping that we will develop a Twitter community at our school, and then in our district. These four sessions may lead into more, who knows? Perhaps we'll have a regular PLC meeting on Twitter. It's a beginning, and I'm excited about the possibilities. I want other educators to see and experience the passion and professional dialogue available through Twitter.

Do you have a professional account on Twitter? 
How does Twitter help you develop as a professional?
How might you find time to pursue it?