Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I Will Not Sink

I will not sink.

  • I will participate in positive, professional dialogue.
  • I will not seek a platform for attention based on negativity or mudslinging.
  • I will avoid listening to gossip about others, and I will not repeat it if I hear it, nor will I give credence to it.
  • I will attempt to turn negative conversations to other topics by injecting a positive insight or suggesting a new topic of conversation.
  • I will walk away from conversations if I cannot participate conscientiously in them and if I cannot effect change.
  • I will seek to find the positive in all situations and people.
  • I will seek conversations and relationships that will focus on growth and positive situations.
  • I will not hide my struggles, but I will address them with honesty and humility, and I will not use my struggles as occasions to harm others.

I will not sink.

    Why is it so much easier to talk about negative things? Why are we attracted to the negative: criticism, complaining, gossip? I think it makes us feel better about ourselves, or superior to others, and we like that.

    Why do conversations focus on negative items far more often than positive ones? A young teacher and I were talking. I told her that we had a great job and that we had a lot of good students. She stopped me there and told me that she doesn’t hear this anywhere else. Her colleagues were always negative, always critical, always focused on the down side.

Isn’t that a sad statement?

    I have been drawn to Twitter as a great source of professional development and encouragement. I have made clear boundaries for myself. I will not participate in negative or critical discussions. I will be honest about my struggles as a teacher, in order to grow and help others grow, but I will not be negative or argumentative. I will not sink. If people I follow begin to Tweet negative, critical comments, become argumentative, or advocate base discussion, behavior or language, I “unfollow” them. I will not sink.

    When I was student teaching my cooperating teacher told me, “Stay away from the faculty room”. I didn’t know what he meant. Then we went down for lunch a few days. The teachers gathered there chose to spend thirty minutes criticizing their spouses, their children, their colleagues, their administrators, and their students. I left depressed. Is this how it always is? No, sometimes I could hear gossip. <Disclaimer: not ALL faculty rooms are like this, and not ALL teachers in faculty rooms are like this--I am generalizing--using an example with which many people can relate.>

So I ask: What will you do to keep from sinking? 

  • Will you participate in positive, professional dialogue?
  • Will you not seek a platform for attention based on negativity or mudslinging?
  • Will you avoid listening to gossip about others, and not repeat it if you hear it, nor give credence to it?
  • Will you attempt to turn negative conversations to other topics by injecting a positive insight or suggesting a new topic of conversation?
  • Will you walk away from conversations if you cannot participate conscientiously in them and if you cannot effect change?
  • Will you seek to find the positive in all situations and people?
  • Will you seek conversations and relationships that will focus on growth and positive situations?
  • Will you not hide your struggles, but address them with honesty and humility, and not use your struggles as occasions to harm others?

What if we try it together? What if we drown out the negative with positive? What if we incorporate professional dialogue into our profession? What if we find the positive and celebrate that? What if we walk away from the negative? 

I will not sink.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Letter to Lorenzo

Dear Lorenzo (y amigos),   

  I am hoping that today I can start you thinking about how you can help yourself and others, just by thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Before you begin, I want to make sure that you know that I really like you and think that you are intelligent, funny and pleasant to be around. I don’t mind your restless energy, and I understand that by the end of the day you’re feeling pretty restless from 7 ½ hours of sitting down.

     My problem is that you use your restless energy to distract and often hurt others. When you speak loudly, especially when it’s across the room, you keep people from being able to concentrate. If you move around the room, other students are distracted from their tasks. When you move, take, destroy or alter other people’s items, you communicate that you think you’re more important than they are, that they are somehow beneath you, and that simply is not true. 

I've tried and tried to find a way to channel his energy.

He's bright, funny, pleasant and always energetic. By the end of the day when he arrives at my class, he needs to move, needs to release some energy, needs to talk and interact. He is too tall for sitting comfortably in the desks.

I don't mind. I encourage him to stand up, to stretch, to be involved in activities. I'll ask him to get something for me from a cupboard or to take something to the office.

I try to teach him how to channel his energy and humor in a positive direction. I know that he works well with regular attention, eye contact and positive feedback. I also know that he responds well to humor and to clear, direct speech.

Some days it seems like we are making progress. I thank him. I tell him that I appreciate his attention, participation, focused energy.

Other days we slide back a little. Sometimes I am more frazzled after 42 minutes with him than with my entire day. It's not that I don't like him, I do. He is very easy to like.

Monday he couldn't or wouldn't direct his energy toward anything productive; instead, he moved around, took people's things, distracted them from their work. Lorenzo kept his peers from being able to enjoy class activities, and he took away their voice when he took away their vote.

I tried several redirecting activities. I attempted to speak to him personally about his activities. But I was not successful and left school that day discouraged.

    I want all my students to know that they are a valuable part of my class, and I want all of them to find success. That includes you. That includes your friends. That includes the quiet students and the talkative students, the angry students and the happy students, the hardworking students and the not-so-hardworking students. 

As I am sure is true with many teachers, I am quick to let the emotion rule the mind. "I'm such an awful teacher." "I am not effective at classroom management." "I shouldn't be doing this job." "I shouldn't be mentoring new teachers." On and on the negative comments come.

The truth is, however, that I am NOT an awful teacher, I AM effective at classroom management, I SHOULD be doing this job. I am a teacher. I love what I do and I love my students, even the troublesome ones. Especially the troublesome ones.

After time away, a good night's sleep and some reorientation through morning devotions, I hatched a plan.

An EVIL plan (hear my diabolical laughter?)

The next day I sent Lorenzo a detention slip and a note to his homeroom.

He came quickly to my room laughing, "Can I really bring my friends?" I told him that I would love for him to bring as many friends as he could. He got excited, and through the day a few students told me that they were going to come to detention with Lorenzo. In the end, however, Lorenzo told his friends that they didn't have to come, and he attended detention by himself.

When Lorenzo came the following day after school, I greeted him with a letter (the purple parts of this blog are the contents of his letter). There are so many important things to communicate; how do I capture his attention and help him understand?

You have incredible potential! You can be a top student, a leader in the school, a role-model, and a friend. It’s time to dig deep and find in yourself the strength to choose what is right. I know that you can!

With the help of a colleague and one of Lorenzo's friends and teammates, we provided an unique detention experience.

    Before you leave today, you need to write a letter of appreciation to an adult who believes in you, who challenges you to greatness, who pushes you to do what is right. That can be a family member, a teacher, a coach, a neighbor.  

     Your letter needs to be written in CURSIVE and in INK. It should include:·         a greeting (Dear ____);
·         the reason you are writing (I’m writing this to say thank you…);
·         at least two things for which you are grateful to this person;
·         a positive character trait that you see in them and would like to see in yourself;
·         one idea for how you will try to be like this person;
·         another “thank you”;
·         your name
When your letter is satisfactory to me, you may leave.With all my respect and best wishes,

Lorenzo took a few moments to read my letter and looked up with laughter. Yes, I affirmed, you must write a letter. Who has been a big influence in your life? It took a while because he did not want to do this. I helped him to think of someone, and then I told him that his detention would only last as long as it took to write the letter.

Just as Lorenzo was beginning, my colleague arrived and asked, "Lorenzo, what are you doing here? What are you doing? Can I read this?" On and on it went. He took the paper from Lorenzo, pointed out errors, bumped his hand while writing, kept him distracted.

Then, to make matters worse, Lorenzo's friend Tito arrived and started interrupting him as well. "Lorenzo, what are you doing? Can I read it? Oops, I accidentally wrote on your paper. Oh, well (balling it up), you'll just have to start over".

My colleague and Lorenzo's friend demonstrated for him what I could never adequately express with words. We need to regard each other with respect; we need to treat each other with courtesy; we need to channel energy into productive and not destructive actions.

Yes, this was a little diabolical, I admit. 

I wouldn't try this with every student.

But I know Lorenzo. I need to be unconventional in reaching him; I need him to see how what he sees as "humor" can be a distraction and a detriment if improperly used.

Lorenzo has a great sense of humor. He laughed the entire time (about 25 minutes).

In the end, after several drafts, Lorenzo wrote a very sweet letter to his older sister. He wrote it on "official" stationery, addressed an envelope and sealed the letter inside.

We reviewed the facts: Lorenzo is personable and capable. He's also funny and social. All of those can be tremendous assets, or they can be weapons. He has a choice to make on a daily basis. I know that not every "tomorrow" will be smooth because of today, but I hope that I have made a long-lasting impression for him.

I waited a few days and then mailed the letter home. I also mailed him a postcard, affirming my belief in him and encouraging him to choose wisely and to continue to shine. I also sent his mother a note, telling her how proud of Lorenzo I was.


At first I was so frustrated with Lorenzo that I couldn't think rationally, and I was beating myself up for my lack of "classroom management". Not reacting at the time was the best choice.

When you face classroom management battles, 

how can you give yourself time to reflect, 

rather than react in the moment?

I needed a creative way to reach Lorenzo, but this is not a formula for success for any student and any situation. I knew Lorenzo, and I had established a rapport with him.

What creative methods have you used

to attempt to reach a student?

My battles are not over. Lorenzo will have good days and bad days. I need to continue to believe in him, and continue to push him to greatness.

When you have a student who seems 


 will you commit to

 believing in him or her anyway?

Embedded image permalink
A local printer makes my post cards.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Three Truths...No Lie!

Today I am celebrating truthfulness. On three separate occasions within the span of just a couple of days, students chose to do what is right instead of what is convenient.

After reading the poem "Instantes," (here is a Spanish version: students had to interview three adults and record what the adult would do differently if he/she could return to a younger age. We discussed the answers aloud, each students sharing what their interviewees would have done.

"I would have studied to become a doctor."
"I would have played a sport in high school."
"I would not have sold my Mickey Mantle baseball card."

The discussions were enjoyable, and the students freely shared their responses. I congratulated and thanked them all.

After class, Charlie remained behind. "Señora, I forgot to do the assignment. I made up the answers based on what I think my parents would have said. And I remembered my grandfather telling me about the baseball card he had sold."

Charlie chose to confess the truth without prompting, regardless of the cost, because it was the right thing to do.

At the end of another class, Alex asked to talk to me. "Señora, I think you made a mistake in the grade book. You gave me more points than what you had on the rubric."

Alex chose to reveal a truth that would have been better and more convenient to have kept hidden. He is a hardworking student in a hardworking, competitive (class rank) class. Alex did it because it was the right thing to do.

Early in the morning on the weekend I received an email from Mike. He was disappointed at his grade for the first quarter and he wondered what had gone wrong, or what he could do. It would be his first "B" ever in a Spanish class, and he had missed an "A" by one percent.

I emailed him back, thanking him for emailing with the question, and telling him that I, too, was disappointed because I felt he could have done better. But, I offered him a "lifeline". "Please look back at the project rubric in your Google Drive folder. There are two sections where you have a very low score. Read over them and then let me know honestly if I have made a mistake. If so, I will adjust your grade."

A few hours later, Mike emailed me again. He wrote, "Señora, I see what I didn't do. I didn't share with or correct anyone's slide show...I never found time...I apologize for not paying closer attention to the details of the project and putting enough time in."

Mike chose to admit to a difficult truth, knowing that he was sacrificing a chance at a higher grade because it was the right thing to do.

Moments like these don't make the evening news; they aren't headlines in the paper either. But perhaps they should be. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change of pace?

So, what are my takeaways from these experiences?

  1. Truth and integrity still exist. Never, never, never give up or grow cynical. 
  2. Always believe in and encourage the best in your students.
  3. Some days this job is so incredible I feel like I should be paying to do it! 

I need to celebrate my students' honesty and integrity. Perhaps I should share the stories with my students and colleagues, but I need to do so in a way that does not embarrass them. That will take some creative thinking.

What stories keep you believing in your students?
How can you celebrate acts of truthfulness and integrity?
How have you demonstrated truthfulness and integrity before your students? your colleagues?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taking a Walk with my Students

On Wednesday I decided that I needed to spend a little time one-on-one with some students. Although it was difficult for me to detach myself from all the "URGENT" tasks on my desk, I gathered student schedules and went for a walk.

They were some of the most well spent minutes of my week!

First stop: I borrowed Rosa from her computer class and we went for a walk. Rosa was so agitated in class the day before that she came without her materials, would not work or participate, and became combative with other students over minor interruptions. My statement to her was, "I was worried about you because you were so upset, and I wanted to make sure that you are okay. Is there anything I can do?"

Quickly, Emily shared concerns weighing on her, concerns that we would dismiss as "9th grade girl syndrome," but in her world, real, emotional, critical.

I didn't have any answers but I asked how I could help. Emily asked to have her seat moved. Easily done!

That day I moved Rosa. Thursday, Rosa was early to class, had her materials, completed her assignment, and participated in the class activities. She proudly showed me that she was ready for class, and I thanked her for her effort.

Second stop: Tito and I walked around a hallway while we discussed his abrasive comments to a fellow student in class the day before. I made sure that I understood he did not begin the conflict, but that he was incited by a comment I didn't hear. Then I asked if he was okay, considering that another student had insulted him. He assured me that he and the other student were "cool," they were just joking around.

Third stop: Julio was the other student involved in the harsh exchange of words. As we walked through the hall, he echoed Tito's sentiments. We discussed the potential harm of his comments, and he agreed that they were wrong. He apologized and I walked him back to class.

When Tito and Julio came to class that day, they took the time to speak with each other about everyday types of things. I think it was mostly to prove to me that their relationship was good. I was pleased and relieved.

The clock was ticking down, but I had one more student I really wanted to contact.

Fourth stop: I borrowed Lorenzo from his study hall and we went for a walk. We strolled casually around part of the school and then found a bench in the hallway where we could sit and talk. I have some suspicions: Lorenzo causes trouble because he has my class at the end of the day, because he is too tall to sit comfortably in the classroom desks, because he loves to speak and joke without thinking through what he is saying, because he is bored and not challenged enough.

Yes, he agreed each time. Then we talked about solutions.

More than anything I want him to know that I care. I want him to succeed. I like him as he is; he doesn't have to alter his personality to be likable. I believe in him. I will help him find ways to succeed.

It's okay to move to a desk separated from others so there is room to stretch; it is okay to stand up or move around a bit; it is okay to talk and joke with friends, at the right time and in the right way. Let's work out what those things look like.

When Lorenzo came to class today, we moved his seat and found moments when he could stretch and move. We implemented some other changes. Truthfully, everything isn't "perfect," but that's okay. We work on it together. Tomorrow he's coming for a detention and we're going to have a hands-on, movement and task-oriented time. I even challenged him to bring a friend with him.

So, what are my takeaways from the day?

  1. Students have stories. I can't assume that I know already, I need to listen.
  2. Walking around the school is far less intimidating than meeting at a desk or in an office. The students seem less defensive and more willing to talk.
  3. I need to guard my students' dignity and identity; they are not criminals, delinquents, or objects of my wrath. 

I need to take more walks with my students, whatever the reason. I will try to make this a regular practice!

How do you build relationships with students?
How can you address concerns with students while affirming their value and your belief in them?
What demands keep you "tied to your desk"?
Will you consider taking a walk with a student today?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Where is the "UNDO" button?

Sometimes I need a "UNDO" button:

  • the lesson I planned is a complete disaster;
  • I never copied the test I need for this period;
  • my students are angry because I overlooked an infraction for one student but not for another;
  • the teacher next door was out of school three days with a sick child and I didn't take the time to ask about the child, offer my help, or just share an encouraging word;
  • a student is struggling in my class but I don't offer any extra help;
  • in impatience I criticized a student and embarrassed him in front of his peers;
  • homeroom attendance? I completely forgot to check and submit! Was everyone there?;
  • that girl was visibly upset by something, but I didn't stop to see what was wrong or how I could help;
  • oh, I was supposed to attend a meeting this morning!

Life doesn't have a "UNDO" button.

At times I want to take back my words, change my actions or reactions, or even go back and "insert" what I've omitted. But I can't. And I feel like a failure. And I criticize myself. And I wait for the angry phone call or email, or see disaster unfold before me. I relive the moment in my mind, and replay the failure again and again...and again.

Sometimes I drag myself home at night thinking that perhaps I should choose a new career.

But there is a "REDO" button.

  • Tomorrow I can begin again;
  • I can swallow my pride and apologize--to my administrators, to my coworkers, to my students (yes, it is difficult, but it is necessary);
  • I can make a phone call home;
  • I can track down a student in another class;
  • I can explain (NOT excuse) what I have done, how I have failed, and how I will do things differently;
  • I can remember what I preach to my students--mistakes are not the end of my life; they are opportunities for growth.
We are all human. We will make mistakes. We need to own the mistakes. We need to recover, to change, to grow.

What mistakes have you had to face?

What have you done to correct them?

Will you choose to learn and grow from your mistakes, 
will you declare yourself all-powerful, autonomous and too important to apologize, 
or will you proclaim yourself a loser beyond remedy and quit trying?

Only one answer is right...


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Emulating My Teacher Heroes (1)

My mom tells everyone that I have only ever wanted to do one thing with my life--teach, and she is correct. Even in high school I analyzed my teachers and their teaching methods and identified what I wanted to do like they did. One particular role model was Miss Carole Ewing.

I wasn't the only one who looked forward to Miss Ewing's social studies classes; many of my classmates also loved and admired her. Miss Ewing frequently wore yellow, always smiled enormously, and unfailingly taught with energy and passion. We secretly dubbed her the "Sunshine Lady," and once even secured our principal's permission and assistance to give her a surprise "Sunshine Party" in her classroom.

Her room was full of yellow balloons, yellow streamers, yellow cake, and 25 or so teenagers dressed in yellow shirts. As she entered we all sang, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..." Of course, she gave us her characteristic grin and the party began.

There were many things about Miss Ewing that I wanted to emulate--her enthusiasm, her high expectations, her time and classroom management, her creative projects and activities, but this is "the one": 


We loved Miss Ewing and her classes because we could see and feel her joy. Likewise, we could experience that joy when we were with her.

I want my students to experience that from me! As they enter the room, do they encounter joy or gloom? What do I communicate to them by my facial expressions, body language, actions and words? I've wanted my whole life to be a teacher; will I follow in the footsteps of my dear role model?

Do you have teacher heroes or role models? 

What attributes or actions do you want to emulate? 

What would you want your students to remember about you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Enter Stage Right

A teacher, mentor and friend gave me a piece of advice that has resonated in my heart and mind for years:

"If you are going to be a good teacher, you have to be a good actor (actress)".

What did he mean?

Regardless of the kind of day I'm having, I need to set my personal difficulties/thoughts aside and teach as though everything were great for me.

That is a troubling statement--I can't share my life with my students? I can't be sad, frustrated, angry or discouraged?

I don't think that he meant that I had to be dispassionate and stoic with my students. It's much more than that.

I have a choice to make: 

will I let my emotions rule my thoughts, words and actions, 

or will I bring my emotions under control 

and think, speak and act professionally?

Especially in the present time my students see, hear and experience life controlled by free-range emotions. What they don't often see is caged emotions--emotions under control. I can, and should, be that model for them.

Acting is performing my duty to the best of my ability, 

subduing emotions and impulses. 

At the same time, I can share personal experiences and explain how I feel (and why), demonstrating for my students how to respond in a right way. These are the moments when what I teach goes backstage for a greater life lesson. Here are a few of these moments:

  • a special keepsake is stolen or carelessly broken; how will I react?
  • a student makes a rude or demeaning comment to me: will I retaliate or choose a different response?
  • a student dies: how can I help my students deal with their grief by how I deal with mine?

Do you rule your emotions or do your emotions rule you?

In what other ways does a teacher need to be a great actor?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Called To Teach

        I am called and gifted to be a teacher in public education. As such, I commit to begin each day believing in and expecting the best of each of my students, regardless of the successes and/or failures of the previous day.
        Inside the classroom, I maximize the time by creating learning opportunities to keep the students involved in the learning process. I strive not to waste time—my time or theirs—and to model for them a work ethic and a commitment to excellence. As I model a passion for learning and for my subject matter, I can inspire the same in them. Outside the classroom, I am still a teacher and a role model for my students. At school events, in a public restaurant, on a walking trail, at home, and in church I am the same as I am in the classroom.

        I am committed to excellence, passion and integrity. 

I will live my life in this way, 

and I will seek to develop these traits in my students as well.

As part of my graduate work a few years ago, I was assigned to write my "personal, professional mission statement". This was a valuable reflective exercise, as I put into writing the thoughts in my head and the desires in my heart.

What drives you?

Why do you teach?


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...