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!


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