Smoking Weed to Cap & Gown

To continue my Learning Moments series, I want to share a story and a connection to an activity my Digital Learning Coach (DLC) and I lead in our campus’ Tech Tuesday Professional Learning Community (PLC.) Today we launched our Leading Innovative Change Series (Inspired by George Couros‘ The Innovator’s Mindset) in our Tech Tuesday PLC. We started with getting back to our beginnings and why we chose the teaching profession before we jumped into innovation. We wanted to remember why we are “here” and what keeps us going. We used the Teachers2Teachers toolkit for #whyiteach to focus our thoughts for today’s PLC time. Take a look! (Check out the hashtag #whyiteach on Twitter.)

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When thinking of the why behind teaching a memory came to my mind of my first year teaching. I had a student, we’ll call him Tommy, in my first year who was assigned ISS or Alternative School often due to his use of weed and lack of shall we say focus. We’ll as all teacher’s know if a student is assigned one of these alternatives to their regular day, you have to make an assignment and send work for the day(s). (And, this was before technology.) If you’ve read my previous blog, Horses, Goats & Prayers, Oh My!you know that I had the surprise assignment of PE and Speech my first year of a non-teaching position!

Tommy was in one of my PE classes; in which I had to just makeup work for him to complete as it was an activity class. Since I knew why he had been assigned to ISS and his extracurricular activity, I made him research Cannibis – the effects, longterm issues, etc. This evolved into writing essays as to how weed was going to help him be successful in the future. He knew every time he was in “need” of an alternative assignment I would get creative with the assignment  and center it around his use of weed.

Well, after this year Tommy joined the work program offered in the district. He was able to work and alternatively finish school as he was behind his fellow classmates. Two years later, Tommy found me in my new (fitting) teaching assignment, Biology, in a new classroom. Why did Tommy come find me? To show me his cap and gown as he was graduating from high school. As I am typing, I’m getting goosebumps. This still affects me nearly 15 years later. This is #whyiteach. When you can see success like this from students in general and, especially; in those circumstances where they have a few more hurdles in their way.

Why I Teach:

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Today was one of those days that was just uplifting!  It is great to learn more about your fellow educators and remember the reason(s) we go back day after day to a very demanding job with little light at the end of the tunnel at times. Today we remembered the real reason we teach: our learners.

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On the Floor with the Rabbit

One of my favorite learning moments came many years into my teaching. I had a class pet, Captain Jack, a California Angora short-haired rabbit. He was litter boxed trained thanks to my niece who raised rabbits. I had read that training rabbits was possible and a rabbit fit my “clean,” not stinky animal requirements. I wanted a class pet for the longest time, but didn’t want a stinky hamster, guinea pig, etc. So, a rabbit it was. He was named Capt. Jack, as all of her rabbits were named after the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Capt. Jack joined us and became a beloved member of our classroom (and school.) Once he acclimated to the many predators- Ha! –  and felt safe, he hopped around the room checking out everyone and their backpacks! As I taught Biology, he was a great addition to class; which brought some great questions and discussion.

I had a few students bond with Capt. Jack more than others. In particular, I had one boy who in my class was very quiet and meek. He loved Capt. Jack and Capt. Jack loved him. He was the only one that could dress Capt. Jack in his festive outfits.

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One day I had five guests walk in my room to observe my class with my curriculum director. At this point in my career, this didn’t bother me at all. I had/have observers all the time. Well, in the moment I saw them come in I thought, “Oh, people.” The next moment, as I had a discussion on the characteristics of life with my learners, I had an uh-oh pass through my thoughts, “G is on the floor with the rabbit.” I wondered what my guests would think. I wondered if I cared. A few more moments into the discussion, I posed a question and guess who’s hand flew up from the floor. That’s right, G’s hand went up. I called on him and he added his viewpoint. I also noticed in that moment that two of the onlookers didn’t even know he was down there and started looking around the table to see where that voice had come from! Win!

Even if he hadn’t participated in that very moment, I knew then that learning doesn’t only take place in a desk while you are sitting upright. I think as educators anytime a guest comes into your room, you do a once-over and check to see “how things look.” What’s more important is the learner. I found out later that G had an emotional disorder. (I had not been privy to that info.) Least to say, I was shocked to find out that he had outbursts in other classes in which he cursed his teacher and classmates. I had a totally different kid in my class; which was thanks to Capt. Jack and G being allowed the freedom to move about the room and learn in the way that best fits him. In the next couple of years, G would return often to visit Capt. Jack. He quietly came in and left the same way. I believe he needed a moment or a “time out” in his day.

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The Innovator’s Mindset – Must Read

Do you want to create something new and better? Is your campus wanting to change and innovate? Well, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, is hands down the book you need! I was inspired as I read George Couros’s words. It is a practical guide to changing the mindset of your campus to that of innovation. I am already incorporating some ideas with my team and have plans in the works to go bigger! All educational stakeholders should read the Innovator’s Mindset.

Do you have any good reads to suggest? Leave them in the comments. I would love to add them to my to read pile.

Horses & Goats & Prayers, Oh my!

I have been thinking a lot about my teacher beginnings and the funny and not-so-funny happenings; which have become my stories over the years. My next few blog posts will be a series of “learning moments.” I want to start with a now, funny story of Horses and Goats and Prayers!

So, my first year of teaching I wasn’t really supposed to actually be teaching. I was hired as an athletic trainer, non-teaching position. As experienced teachers know, assignments can change in a moments notice before school starts. So, I was now teaching a section of PE and Speech! What?! I did have a background in PE as my major was Exercise and Sport Studies with a minor in Biology.  Speech was an interesting assignment. Hmmm. You may have guess that I wasn’t certified to teach Speech by now while you read. Well, I wasn’t and the principal got his hand slapped for that move….but, I digress.

My Speech class turned out to be one of my all-time favorite experiences. New teacher, no curriculum, no certification-hands down one of the best experiences of my teaching. I think fondly of that class.

It was about my fourth week of school and we had read our favorite children’s book to warm up to talking in front of the class. We had completed our obligatory All About Me speech and were working on our How To speech.

The day had come for speeches. My first district was a rural one and we had completed a How To Change An Alternator, How To Bake A Cake, etc. I called on my next speaker and she said, “Okay, we have to go outside. I’m doing How to Tie a Goat.”

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Me: “You brought a goat to school?” Not quite sure how I managed to ask this question as my jaw must have dropped to the floor.

Student: “Yeah, my Mom has my goat outside.”

Me: “Your Mom has your goat outside right now?” utterly in shock.

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, {pause} let’s go outside.” as I FREAK OUT IN MY HEAD!!!!

Here is the conversation in my head as we walked outside: “Oh my gosh, can we go outside?, Is this okay? They brought an animal to school!, Oh my gosh, I’m going to get fired, I guess it was nice while it lasted…”

We get outside and Mom pops the hatch back of the SUV and my young lady proceeded to show us How to Tie a Goat. Now, I grew up in the country and raised many animals including goats. So, it wasn’t that I was new to animals, rural areas or even goat ropin’.

The whole time she’s giving her speech my internal dialog consisted of: “Oh God, please don’t let the principal come out here. I don’t see anyone about, please don’t let anyone see this. Pay attention to her speech, Sunny, your grading this! Please don’t let the principal to come our here. Hurry up!” Make it back to the classroom. Whew, it was a close one. No one is the wiser.

Day Two

Speeches continue. I call on a young man that is not too keene on school, nor does he talk much. The strong silent type. He has his speech! HE HAS HIS SPEECH! SUCCESS! YES!

Student: “I’m going to do How To Saddle a Horse.”

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Me: “You brought your horse to school?” thinking,  that’s a LOT bigger than a goat. I don’t think your Mom brought it to school in the back of a SUV. Crap. Why didn’t I ask if anyone else was planning on bringing an animal to school. *Me now: “Rookie mistake!” 🙂
Student: “Yes, I brought by trailer and truck. It’s okay I’m in Ag.”

Me: “Okay, let’s go outside.” as I cringe and say another prayer.

We arrive at the trailer. The student already has his horse ready and tied to the back of his trailer with the tack ready for his speech. He gives a fantastic speech! I am so proud. Guess what same dialog in my head. I think I’m going to get fired and sure hope that a principal does not walk by – why would they? We are in the remote back of the school, right? Nope. Just about the time the young man is finishing his speech not only the head principal, but the associate principal BOTH walk up!

I’m petrified and braced for the worst.

Principal: “You think outside of the box Strait (my maiden name).” as he keeps his stride moving on.

What?! I wasn’t dead. I not only wasn’t fired, but got a compliment!? Note to self: Ask if any other students are bringing a freakin’ animal to school!

My most favorite story to tell other teachers, but especially new teachers. It’s great lesson in flexibility, taking risks and trusting your students.

Do any of you have some great stories to share? Please share in the comments! I would love to read them!

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No Rules, No Problem

A colleague of mine shared this article by Valerie Strauss discussing how schools ruined recess and it hits a nerve with me. I have forever not understood why we take away recess so students can have more tutorial/practice sessions. Yes, as an educator, I understand the need to use every minute to the fullest to prepare our children….hmm, but what are we preparing them for? You see what the real problem here is TESTING. I guarantee if you walked into any class in which students were held back from recess to work, it would be because they needed help with passing the state/national test for that grade level. That would be the underlying reason. Yes, they may have gaps. Yes, they may be below grade level, but the driving force of “punishing” that student is standardized testing.

This article makes me think of this sweet student my mother taught. This little girl was stripped of all recess, downtime, before school time and after school time. Every minute of her day was spent in class and in tutorials for extra help. She accepted it, but would ask why she couldn’t go out. She was promised from administration that she could go out every Wednesday and then that was taken away. She then was allowed to think there was light at the end of the tunnel and after testing she would be allowed recess again. Testing came and left and when she was supposed to go out and play, she was told no, that they better start preparing for next year. My heart broke for this little girl and my mother. My mother had no control  and would bend the rules when she could. What are we really teaching here? I think we are teaching this little girl and others like her to hate school and to hate learning.

This can be likened to school breaks in the upper grades. I know teachers that will assign projects over a break. It is a break. A break is a pause in work or during an activity or event. Do students not deserve a break as well?! These same teachers would throw a fit if they were given an assignment from their district to complete over a break.

I do love how the article gave steps to fix this situation. Check them out! Here is my favorite quote:, “When the rules left, so did their ‘behavior issues.’ He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.”

There is much research out there that supports the need for recess and active play. Let’s let kids be kids.