Monday, September 7, 2020

10th First Day


Hello! It has been a while but I have returned to SpearTipEDU (on a limited basis because my world is going to get a lot busier!).  

Tomorrow, September 8th, 2020 will be my 10th first day of school as a teacher. I have returned to the K12 world and it starts tomorrow! The first nine years of my teaching career was spent at Brandon Valley Middle School. After that, I took a 5 year sabbatical from classroom teacher world as I entered the instructional coaching world at Sioux Falls and the Higher Education world at Dakota State University. But alas! I am back and I couldn't be more excited. Sure, I had 'first days' of school the last four years at DSU, but my DSU 'first day' consisted of 50 minutes with in person students and 7 hours and 10 minutes sitting in my office alone. So, I don't really count those as the first day of K12 world is far, far different. The electricity and excitement and nervousness and newness and adventure -- the 'first day' of a k12 school year has it all. I may be a little rusty, but I am so looking forward to being 'back in the trenches' with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders teaching US history and geography. Oh, how my worlds could not be different from last year to this year. DSU world was all about helping students learn HOW to be teachers - now, I am teaching content. No more flexible schedule, getting to go to the bathroom whenever I want, sleeping in, leaving early, 2 hour lunch break, four day work week, no more coffee shops 3 times a week. But I am CHOOSING to give all that up. I am wired for the K12 world. This is where I am best. True, helping college students learn how to be a PIRATE teachers is noble, important work, but I belong with young adolescents. So bring on the grind. Bring on the non-stop action. Bring on the long, boring stories. Bring on the young adolescent issues and drama. Bring on the parent/teacher conferences. Bring on the poor hygiene (though, maybe not this year). Bring on the five day week, the limited bathroom breaks, the 4 minute lunch hour. Bring on all the emails, the collaboration, the feedback, the lesson planning, the grading, the creating. Bring it all on.  Oh, and it was just my luck my return to the K12 world was during a global pandemic! Mask up. Let's teach! 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Finding the Silver Lining

The silver lining amidst the coronavirus pandemic
Try to find the silver lining in this coronavirus mess. I think it's helpful to keep your sanity, to stay positive, and in trying to keep a good attitude about everything. The time passes way too slow if all you do is mope around the house wishing for our old life back. For me, I have thought a lot about the silver lining in all this.

1. Olivia. She is a junior at the moment. Next year, she will, of course, be a senior in high school, which will fly by and before we can blink twice, she will be off to college. Once that happens, it's never the same. Sure, a few summers at home but it will never be like it is when they are in high school or younger, living at home. So for this quarantine, a definite silver lining is the chance to have Olivia around a lot and spending time with the family. I am certain she would rather be at school, hanging out with her friends, being a high schooler - but I have so appreciated the chance to have her around so much before she goes off to college and beyond.

2. New challenge. Next year, I will be off to a new challenge back in the classroom teaching middle school/high school social studies. I am excited to be back in the classroom with all the action that comes with it, working with young adolescents again. I am also going to be the head girls basketball coach, a challenge I am so incredibly excited for. So during this quarantine, I have had a lot of time to start thinking/working on my new challenges. I have spent time everyday brushing up on US history and working on building my basketball program. It has given me time to spend thinking and planning and getting organized.

3. Hazel. Kids grow up so fast and time flies by. The time in which your kids are at that 'little kid' phase goes so quickly. Hazel is 6. She's at such a great age, one that is so fun and adorable. These times are priceless, times you can never get back. So instead of the hustle and bustle of life getting in the way of quality time with Hazel and enjoying her age, life has ground to a screeching halt, giving us time to really appreciate Hazel and the phase she is in. Each morning, she wakes up and crawls into bed with me and snuggles up. Every morning. It is something I so look forward to. This pandemic will end. Hazel will grow up and these moments will forever be gone. So this quarantine has given us a chance to slow way down and not take things for granted.

4. Cheap living! Since we can't leave, we can't go spend money, so we have been able to save more!

What is your silver lining? I hope you have found one or multiple. It goes a long way in saving our sanity.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A time for perseverance

Hello to you all from quarantine. I hope you are all staying healthy and safe. I hope you are all being productive and not going too stir crazy during these weird/unprecedented times.  My daily life has become defined by repetition: Wake up, make my Iced Caramel Latte, go on my computer, eat oatmeal with brown sugar, make Hazel breakfast, read, watch movies, watch Netflix, play with Hazel, talk to the girls, do our dribble workouts, eat, eat, eat. However, one aspect of my life that I have been able to continue is going for runs outside. And it was one of these such runs that I observed a tremendous lesson in perseverance. No, not me pushing through my run, but a subtle item that anyone passing by would surely miss. 
When I go for a run, I take the exact same route every time. During one such run, I noticed a green poker chip laying by the curb. I didn't think much of it. But as I continued to run and I would look to see if the green poker chip was still there. It began to give me something to look forward to each day - would the green poker chip still be there? This started back in January. It is the end of March. Yesterday, while on my run, I once again saw the green poker chip. But this time, I stopped and picked it up, for it represents a tremendous profile in perseverance and I wanted to keep it. Just think - since January, through all the snow, wind, rain, street sweepers, etc. it remained. It remained undeterred in the face of mother nature, throwing everything she had at the green poker chip to make it go away. But yet, it persisted. So it may just seem like an insignificant, plain, old green poker chip. But let me tell you, people, it is so much more than that. It is perseverance - through and through. Perhaps it was placed on that road for a reason because of the times we find ourselves in. We must persevere - not through something difficult, but through much boredom. We are not wired to sit at home and do nothing. We are too accustomed to the faced paced way of life - so now with all that crashing down around us - we must persevere through this boredom and inaction - because if we don't, if we fall to the temptation to return to normal too soon, this will never end and we will never get out of this boredom. If the green poker chip can persevere through all that it has, surely we can too. Be safe. Stay well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Legendary people like Kobe seem immortal. It seems like they are above normal things like dying in accidents. They are larger than life and could not be affected by things that affect 'normal' people. It was a complete shock to me when I heard the news that Kobe died on Sunday in a helicopter crash. I am still having a difficult time processing this.  I was never a huge Kobe fan. I appreciated his work ethic, his competitive spirit but never considered him my 'favorite player.' Yet for some reason, I just can't stop thinking about the fact that Kobe Bryant is dead.  Perhaps this is why... Gigi, Kobe's daughter that died with him in the crash, was 13 years old. Her basketball number was 2. My daughter Isabel is 14 and her basketball number is 2. Kobe has an older daughter who plays volleyball. Her number is 8. I have an older daughter who plays volleyball and her number is 8. Furthermore, Kobe and his daughter Gigi were on their way to a weekend basketball tournament. Something Isabel and I have done countless times. I think this is why it hits home so much is because they were doing something that so many of us 'mere mortals' have done as well....traveling to a weekend basketball tournament.  I can't stop thinking about Kobe and his daughter in the moments before the helicopter crashed and what was going through their minds. I picture Kobe hugging Gigi tight, as the helicopter spun out of control, knowing the inevitable was about to happen.  It gets me every time when I think about it - Kobe embracing his daughter, unable to protect her and keep her safe in their last moments.
When a tragedy like this happens, it is always the same: a whole bunch of cliches are thrown out there, an outpouring of support/love. People sharing their memories. The things is...all those cliches are true. Yet, we forget about them because we get wrapped up in life and the hustle and bustle of always being busy. We focus so much on things that don't matter, so it takes a tremendously sad tragedy like this to remind us to slow down, take a moment, look up from the screen and appreciate what you have.  How grand would it have been for Kobe to have been able to hear how important he was and how loved he was when he was still alive? Don't wait for a person to die to share how much they mean to you.
Life is fragile. Life goes by so quick. Life can end in an instant. Yes, all cliches, yet all most definitely true.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Off to Kindergarten and Beyond...

Hazel's School Picture - Kindergarten
On Hazel's first day of kindergarten, she literally ran to the building. I had to call to her to wait for me because I wanted to be with her as she walked into the school and took that first step in her public school journey. She yelled back at me to hurry up and that we were going to be late. I assured her, as I jogged to catch up, that we had plenty of time, that we were early. I wanted to tell her to slow down, don't rush, time goes by fast enough without us trying to make it go faster. She was beaming. She was excited. She couldn't wait to get to school.  Wouldn't it be nice if kids continued to have that exact same level of enthusiasm and excitement as they made their way through their K12 experience? Hazel wasn't alone in her excitement. We saw many other kindergarten-aged kids running to the school, smiles spread wide across their faces, urging their parents to hurry up.  However, the 4th graders were not running. Head over to the middle school and you would not see students running to the building. You would not see high schoolers running to the building. Perhaps it is unfair to think middle school and high school-aged kids would actually run to the building - that that's the only way to show excitement. Perhaps being older makes it so running isn't an option, no matter how excited they are for school. But something happens to students along the K12 adventure - the older they get, the less excited for school they become. This is a very general statement as there are certainly students who are excited for school all the way through high school, but a truth, nonetheless. Why do students lose that excitement for school that compels them to "run" to the building? When does this happen? First grade? Fifth? Middle school? It undoubtedly happens at different times depending on the student, but in my experience, I have seen the gradual decline all too often.  So why? The answers vary - stress, drama, pressure, homework, worksheets, bullying, etc. - much we, as teachers, can not control. However, we can certainly control what happens to those students during our time with them each day - we can certainly do our part to keep that excitement for learning alive, to not let it die out shortly after kindergarten. So how is this done? How do we keep the excitement for school alive, even as the students get older? Good question with an easy answer - but an answer that is hard to execute because it takes tremendous effort, consistency and an unflinching commitment to the student.  Keep the excitement and love of learning alive in your students by engaging them with meaningful activities - simulations, hands-on, relevancy, thought-provoking, real-world, authentic. Keep the excitement and love of learning alive in your students by showing them that you care about them as a person, not just a statistic on the standardized test report - that you are there for them. Keep that excitement alive by showing kindness, building trust, reaching out to them. You don't need a fancy handshake or a nickname for each student - you just need to genuinely care for students and show kindness. Far too often, students hit a snag in their journey in which they cross paths with someone who is not willing to put in the work to get to know them and build a relationship with them. Don't be that teacher. Don't be the one teacher that causes the students to check out from the school experience. Don't be the reason why kids stop running to school.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Culture Building the Zappos Way

Zappos is a shoe company. It just happens to be the shoe company that I always use to get new all-black Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, the shoe I wear to school every day. Here is an interesting fact about Zappos: They pay their employees $5,000 if they leave the company. You might be thinking, “What?!?! That’s crazy!”  Well, it is certainly unique, but it is Zappos applying pressure on themselves to make the culture at their company so good that people would rather stay and work for them, rather than leave the company with $5,000 in their pocket. Zappos knows that it’s all about culture when it comes to job satisfaction and employee morale.  Let’s apply this to school - would you rather stay at your present school or take $5,000 and go to a different school? The answer will tell you how the culture building is going in the school in which you teach. Apply that same concept to your class - would students rather have you for a teacher or take $50 and go to a different teacher? Thinking about this through the Zappos frame is a helpful way to approach your efforts at building culture. It is such an important task - to create a culture in your school/classroom that would cause people/students to stay with you, rather than taking a bag of money and going elsewhere. I FOR SURE would have taken the money and took my chances with another teacher, rather than stay with who I currently had. However, there were other teachers/coaches along the way that I would have stayed with, no matter how much money was dangling in front of me. Why? Because it’s all about relationships. Those teachers/coaches were super nice and took a genuine interest in me. I knew they cared about me and had my best interests in mind. They talked to me and treated me like a person, not a subordinate student. So, examine your world. What would your students do if presented with the stay or leave option? If you area principal, what would your teachers do? Jump ship with the dough, or stay with you? 

Be the reason people want to stay.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Kindness Wins

One of my biggest pet peeves in education/school is when teachers are not kind to their students. It bothers me so much hearing stories from students about how certain teachers treat kids. Granted, there are always two sides of a story, but when the same name continues to be brought up, time and time again, there must be some smoke there. I don't get it! Don't you know?? Kindness wins. Teachers on a power trip - boo.  Teachers showing kindness - Yay!  Students can become incredibly anxious when the teacher acts all high and mighty - or in other words, is on a power trip. I get how this can happen - you do have a sense of power over your students because you are the teacher and they are the subordinate students. However, that is no way to lead! It just cracks me up when a teacher is going back to school to be an admin yet, they are mean, sarcastic, etc. to kids. Wow, well on your way to being a crappy principal!  Teachers flexing their power over students and making sure everyone knows who is in charge is such a bad approach. I don't care how well you know your content or how many teaching strategies you know or how many hours you put in grading. I, along with your students, care about how you treat students. Treat them with respect. Show empathy. Get off your pedestal. Interact with the students in a positive way. Don't think you are a celebrity or famous (you're not). Don't be sarcastic. Don't speak in an intimidating way. Listen to your students.
I'll prove it to you: Being in my present role in higher education, I want to try to stay connected as much as possible to the k12 world. So I thought I would substitute teach during my breaks to get back into the schools and try to stay connected to that world. I subbed at a middle school recently and it was extremely challenging. There were 31 students in the class and to them, I was a complete stranger. They did not care what I had to say or who I was. They didn't care that I taught at a university. One student and I got off on the wrong foot so he became very belligerent and insubordinate. He was being very disrespectful and would not listen. I was close to pulling the trigger on sending him to the office, but instead, I decided to try my go-to approach with student behavior/challenging students: kindness.  I chose to stay calm, not react and shower him with kindness. Over the course of the next 40 minutes, my kindness began to break down his barriers. I pointed out we were both wearing Chuck Taylor all-black converse. I smiled at him and asked him how it was going. I asked him about his favorite NFL player. I encouraged him in what he was working on. Time and time again, he got off task and was disrespectful. Time and time again, I responded with kindness. It was challenging to stay calm and continue to show kindness, but by the end of the period, we had moved an inch. It was only an inch, but progress nonetheless. I asked the regular classroom teacher about this student later that week and she told me his story. A terrible home life producing distrust of adults, so it was not hard to see why he didn't automatically trust me. I had to earn it. She also told me that he had really good things to say about me and that he wanted me to come back. I was surprised by this but at the same time, I wasn't. Why? Because Kindness wins. Always. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Discussion Strategy: Mock Trial

Recently, in my social studies methods course, we held two mock trials. Mock trial #1 put the Confederate statues on trial, to determine, through trial, if the confederate statues should remain or if they should be taken down. In the second mock trial, we put the border wall along the US-Mexico border on trial, to determine whether the wall should be built or not.
The process: Half the class participated in the border wall mock trial, while the other half of the class participated in the Confederate statues mock trial. Due to numbers, we needed two mock trials as there were too many people in the class for one mock trial. In the mock trial that the students were not part of, they served as the jury and fact checkers.
For each mock trial, the students were assigned to either the prosecution or the defense.  Students did not necessarily argue for what they personally believed should be done in regards to the issue. I believe this is important because it forces the students to think about and dive into both sides. Besides, if students were left to choose what side they wanted to argue for, we may not have equal sides and it could get too personal. In addition, some students do not want people to know what they believe in personally. Once assigned to a side, the group of students determined what role each would fulfill. There were two roles: attorney and witness. There were two attorneys and three witnesses per side. They were in charge of coming up with who their witnesses were. They submitted their 'witness list' to the court so the other side could see who would be called and prepare for cross-examination. Once the trial began, I acted as judge and facilitated the proceedings. Each side gave opening statements. Then, the prosecution called their three witnesses, with cross-examination each time. The defense then presented their case by calling their witness, with prosecution getting their chance at cross-examination. Finally, each side gave their closing remarks. The jury then deliberated until they had a verdict, consulting with the fact checkers on any errors that were presented in either side. The jury was supposed to make their decision NOT on what they personally believed, but who presented the best case for what they were arguing.
The mock trial is a very engaging way to generate discussion on a deeper level. It's a great way to discuss current events. It's a project so there will be a significant amount of time spent with allowing the sides to be prepared, in order to have a rich, deep discussion/view of the issue at hand. It's a discussion technique that can be used in many different content areas. It allows the students to think critically, listen, speak and prepare.
Perhaps there is a place for the mock trial in your classroom!