MY BLOG POSTS, My Reflections

CONNECTIONS STILL MEAN EVERYTHING


The amazing legendary teacher Rita Pierson left this world in 2013. However, her lessons will continue to bring others into beautiful relationships that will change lives for the better through every teacher and every other human who has the fortune of reading about her or watching her TedTalks.
Positive relationships matter now, more than ever.

Prior to the pandemic, people knew that making connections with others are powerful. People often want to be known. Really known. While many are afraid of rejection over the parts they don’t like about themselves, we still crave connection and true, unconditional understanding. From the first time a baby comes into the world and reacts to a loving touch or look, we all keep looking for genuine relationships with others.

As a teacher, it’s been hard in many ways. We’ve been in remote, in hybrid and soon, in-person. Making connections with our students, for most of us, is one of the biggest joys of our careers. We love what we teach, but we love who we teach much more.

Making those genuine relationships that make our students shine and grow knowing they are safe, are understood and are able to grow in the environment of that teacher’s classroom is magical. As this school year approached, so many of us educators worried about how we might make true, deep connections in a world that had shifted dramatically, no matter what might come next.

I love getting to know others and making connections that are real, whether they are momentary moments with a stranger in a store or ones that last for decades. As a teacher, it is a huge part of how I learn about my students, earn their trust and help them through the rollercoaster rides of going through the middle school years.

I love being real with them, and in turn, they all reciprocate in so many wondrous ways.

For example, a student who I had last year, could barely speak to me. Extremely shy, I never witnessed them even talk to other students. It was so hard to build a relationship with this student and know if I was connecting. Then, this very student took my creative writing class again this year.

Guess what? The student has been talking to me!

After I shared how very thrilled I was to take my class again after not knowing if I had any sort of impact on him, the response was, “You did. You definitely did. You never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up.” Not only has the talking continued, but this amazing person shares more and more of themself through the writing we do.

Whew! That’s the power of connection.

Whether in the classroom or with any positive connections you make with others, we grow and thrive.

Another student I have had the pleasure to know and teach this year, through one of my remote classes, was one with whom I have a great relationship. However, while trying to hide it, I saw subtle shifts lately. The work ethic didn’t change, but something was wrong.

When I saw that they had missed some days this week, which rarely happen, I sent an email to connect.

My Subject: EVERYTHING OK?

My simply message was, “I know you’ve missed classes this week. Is everything okay?”

Not only did a response arrive rather quickly, but it was followed by sharing all that caused the absences and what I probably noticed when in class this week. Then, at the end, “I will be at school tomorrow! I really appreciate you and everything you done for me!! I look forward to seeing you and thank you for trying to make that connection. It means a lot. ”

In remote, during a pandemic, this student has still thrived in huge ways and is even entering my student leadership training program. Relationships are not just maintained when we are with each other but also when we are not able to be together. What we do through the harder moments often speaks far greater to another’s heart, when they need it most.

While all humans can learn and have successful lives, they can become their best selves so much quicker when they know they are valued.

Over my twenty years of teaching, I have seen a huge rise in mental health issues among more and more of our young people. For anyone to trust and share about this, it can be extremely difficult and sometimes, tragic.

Year after year, these students often confide in me verbally, through their assignments or in emails. While I always do what I need to do to make sure they get the help needed, from the right people, it is those connections that helps them to still become their best selves in the midst of their middle school years. More importantly, having those connections mean they are seen, heard, understood and they still matter.

That’s everything.

One of the biggest examples with a student who doesn’t see much worth in school, but is extremely intelligent and capable, happened today. While yes, my job is to help my students learn. Yet, as a human who knows that together we are better, we must look to help one another whenever possible.

Rita Pierson’s words say it all. Little did she know how much more it would mean after 2020 arrived.

I squatted down next to this student and simply asked, “Are you okay? You haven’t looked happy in a while.” For the first time, this student was the most real I’ve ever seen. They shared what they were struggling with the assignment. My response was from what I have noticed about this student, so I used that to provide the help needed. Not only did that shift his countenance in a good way, but he asked me for additional help. This, from a human who clearly doesn’t like being vulnerable, became so and even thanked me as the class left.

Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is small or large, they matter.

Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is in person, through a phone, a computer, or other virtual way, they matter.

Whether our positive, genuine connections with others lead to long lasting relationships or the two parties never see one another again, they matter.

We don’t need to always see the impacts of these moments.

If we learn how to connect in ways that are true, honest, fair, pure and meant for the good of those we encounter within the journeys of our lives, that most definitely MATTERS.

Know that you matter! There are others who see you, hear you, understand you and want to embrace you. Better yet, these people want to help you become the best YOU.

Trust isn’t easy, but when earned, it is an extremely powerful force in this world . . . before the pandemic, during and always will be.

My Reflections

EDUCATION: Culture Matters When Going Remote


Just some of how our school staff was welcomed back to school two weeks ago.

Last spring, schools across the nation went remote. Not enough time to prepare. Everyone in shock from the pandemic.

What helped my school? Our culture. The environment that had been established way before life changed.

When life has ups and downs, the culture helps people to rise or fall.

Nothing was as good as it should have been. Not enough was known about much of anything, and I’m not just talking about education. A crisis of massive proportions arose across the globe, and we functioned as best we could.

Our principals and leadership met with groups of staff each week, so we stayed connected, made decisions and processed together and cared about one another. Culture.

Teachers taught, but we spent a lot of time having conversations with our students through video meetings, emails and phone calls. Culture.

Whether students or staff, we knew we could rely on one another. We knew to supply grace to each other. We knew we were a community and the culture helped us feel like not all was lost.

What said even more were families and students sending staff emails. They encouraged us. They asked if we were okay. They shared what we meant to them.

They supplied light back, because of the light we provided in darker times. A culture like that creates a safe place to function, no matter what.

Now, in a matter of days, our students will start the new school year. It most definitely will not be what it used to be, except for our culture.

Knowing that the cornerstone of our school is a community of learning while also teaching to the whole child, every child, we’ve been learning. Through the summer. Through extra professional development. Through our own feelings of what if what we’ve always known to do and what we’ve learned isn’t enough. Because our culture means we go above and beyond, always, because our students and their families matter. Details matter.

The pandemic hasn’t gone away. It’s why we changed from students either being remote or hybrid to all going remote to start. Culture we can still maintain, but without safety, it’s hard to learn and grow.

A school cannot have a culture that could take us through a pandemic time, without the right leadership. Principals who have led us with grace, understanding, realness and wisdom, even as they’ve made changes and admitted some of their own struggles through this process.

They’ve given us leadership roles to not only delegate, but to show their faith in us, even now.

They’ve given us time and shifted their original plans, so we could grow, but not break.

They had us make videos of ourselves so this year’s students and families can see us, hear us, and know how much we can’t wait to teach and to also support them all.

Even more powerful than all of that was having us email and call the families of those students who we will be with at the start of each day. We let them know what to expect so they’re not feeling nervous for the first day and beyond, for the students and their parents. To answer questions. But most of all, to help let out a breath, knowing we care enough to call and be there for them even before we have met their children. Culture.

On my end, I adored talking to students who were excited to hear from me. I realized how much I missed hearing the awkwardness of being the age of middle school kids. I soared when parents shared how happy they were to receive my call, how much better they felt and how supported they felt. But, what made my teacher heart fill to completion was getting emails from several of my new students asking me questions they had and then thanking me for my help.

CULTURE! We haven’t even started our first day together, but our culture’s base has already been laid down.

Our school’s vision is to engage, empower and excite our students to grow and learn. Without a building, through emails, calls and soon via video conferencing and other online tools, they will thrive. They will learn. They will feel supported.

And we will be their school community, doing what we know is best for them. Content, we already knew. Learning new ways to engage, empower and excite our 2020-2021 students is simply a part of being educators. What more we may need to move forward? Well, we will grow together, stronger and our culture will be even better than it’s ever been, no matter what life throws our way.

One of the parts of my classroom that helps me establish our culture reminds my students that they while they are capable of much now, beyond this time and space, they should keep on dreaming and growing.

Dedicated to Blake Revelle, Tara Mahoney and our Amazing Knights Community. Love working with all of you!