Saturday, December 30, 2017

This is My Why!

I will never forget the day my eighth grade English Teacher came over to my desk, bent down and whispered "I think you would make a fantastic teacher some day. Maybe it's something you could consider!"
I laughed at her.
Teaching was far from my mind at the time. I had my heart set on being a writer and although I knew I might struggle financially, I was going to make it happen.
Fast forward to the summer before my Senior year. I had signed up for cadet teaching because it seemed like easy credits and I did enjoy being around kids. I get a phone call out of the blue from my guidance counselor. She called to ask me if I would mind moving my cadet teaching to first trimester because this teacher ( who meant a great deal to me and helped me through things as a 6th grader) needed students he could trust to help him because he was just diagnosed with cancer and would have to leave for treatments throughout the year. Without hesitation I agreed. In that trimester I definitely caught the teaching bug. I became so connected to that group of kids and didn't want our time to end.
This was truly the start of my teaching journey.
It is safe to say that in my eight years of teaching, I have encountered my fair share of struggle, cried a number of tears and wondered why I chose this path. If I were to say otherwise I would be flat out lying.
Yet I will also say this: I wouldn't change these experiences for anything.

* I watched a student who as a 7th grader thought teachers were out to get her, grow into a very respectful young lady. She made tremendous leaps and bounds academically and even became cheer captain, which was one of her goals.

* I have seen many students break from their shells and amaze me with their singing, rapping, or speech delivery.

* I have had many students who came in claiming they hate reading, scream out loud when the reading time for the day is over. In one case, a student rushed up to me after a lesson saying"What did you do to me Mrs. Ledford?" In panic I exclaimed "What do you mean? Are you ok?"
The young lady smiled and said " I can't wait to know what is going to happen next in Crispin and I think about it when I am at home. Yesterday, I almost went to the library to get it but I thought you would get mad."
I laughed and said "You my dear have caught the reading bug! It's a good thing!"

* I have had many alums come to visit, giving me a hug to thank me for all I did for them. In my head all I can think is "I am so sorry. I am a much better teacher now than I was then."
I got the privilege earlier this month to welcome back a student who just finished his basic training for the Marines. To watch this student, who definitely had issues with deadlines and motivation, talk about how he had to get each task done correctly on the first try because he had a goal and a plane to catch, brought a tear to my eye!

* I have cried over students and with students. I have broken this thick shell that I thought I needed because one principal told me at a teacher fair that he wasn't sure I could "bring it" in the classroom. I have learned that I don't need to bring anything except myself: an educator with a passion for her students and a drive to be the best teacher and ultimately the best person for them.

* This November I had to say goodbye to a student far too soon. Through my grieving process I realized how much this young man shaped my teaching. He was one of my factors for my shift to flexible seating. During his memorial, I stood up and explained how much this student has shaped me and that I hope he is proud of what my class has become because of him. I then went up to his family. I hugged his brother, who was also a student of mine and then went up to his mother. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said "Thank you for loving my babies"
This, of course, brought me to tears yet since then has stood as the prime example of WHY I do this everyday. You never know where they will end up once they leave your class that year. You can only do everything you can in the time you have to impact them and love them.

Teaching is made of moments...
Is it pretty all the time? NO
Is there room for improvement? OF COURSE

The key is to hold on to our WHY....





Friday, October 27, 2017

Challenge Accepted

Every year, I start my first day in class with a challenge. The students think that it is simply introductions. I then tell them that I am setting a goal in which I will strive all year to achieve. I ask them to tell me the following three things:

*Their name
*How they feel about ELA (Trust me, I can take it!)
*Something interesting about themselves. 

The first and third ARE simply for getting to better know my students at the beginning. It is the second that is very important to me.  Most of the time, because I open the door for them to be COMPLETELY honest, they usually unleash their true feelings complete with many repetitions of the H word (H...A...T...E...) It could be that they strongly dislike reading or writing. Maybe they have strong feelings about both, either way most seem to take joy in telling me their true thoughts. I pull dramatics, put my hand over my heart, but then smile and say "Challenge Accepted"
This sometimes throws them off, but I explain that whatever their feelings about this subject in the past, I am determined to create an environment where they will find one section or activity that they enjoyed.
This year progressed in the usual way. I "unleashed" my unique take on teaching English complete with "Rapping on the Roof," brain-breaks, a gamified classroom, and my new elements such as a student center (Thanks @JoyKirr). It was going well and the smiles on faces let me know I was doing my job and getting closer to the "challenge" goal.

It was at the start of our first novel that the students managed to throw me off my game a little, which doesn't happen very often. At the end of one of my classes that day, a student walked up to me and said
"Mrs. Ledford, you win" 
I just stood there for a moment before responding with a simple "What?"
"You win! I love this book and I think I will give reading another chance!"
While I was thrilled by this statement and went home that night feeling like a giddy child, I begin to ponder more and truly wondered:
What am I doing that is SO different? 
 I teach the same type of concepts I remember being covered when I was in school. I cover the same type of standards as other teachers. I dove into thought, not to brag or become full of myself, but to truly find the secret so I was sure not to ever change that element of my classroom EVER!

*Is it because I implement these new concepts and change myself year after year?... Maybe but I had this passion and change in my students before I implemented them.

*Is it the novels I use in my curriculum?... Maybe, but there was a similar impact when I taught other novels.

My many thoughts took me back to a college class with one of my favorite professors. No matter what the literature topic, even if I didn't really care for the book when I read it alone in my dorm room, she managed to draw me in.  What did she do?
The answer was actually quite simple. It was her passion. The minute she talked about a work, she lit up and you could just feel her passion.
I remember fighting with myself throughout my first year of teaching. Part of me wanted to be my silly self and truly unleash that passion locked inside me. The other was holding back, fear of losing control and having this "passion" affect my ability to manage a classroom, which with my stature was always something I felt I had to prove. Through my eight years, I have realized that it is my passionate, silly side that really seems to connect with students.
Today when you enter my classroom, not only will you see students at the teacher's desk and on flexible seating, you will most likely see a teacher who is speaking gibberish, playing with a scarf around her head, or is randomly in costume during a lesson.

Now I am still not sure if this is why I seem to have so much success in the ELA challenge with myself, yet thinking back on it, I am very proud of the teacher I have evolved into. I hope that underneath all of the methods and elements I may try in my teaching, is a passion for my teaching and my content that with ignite even the stubborn learner's heart!



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Vows to My Tribe


It's been a couple days and I'm starting to come down off of that magic PD cloud called USMSPARK.
In my descent to reality I am doing a ton of reflecting.
The theme of the two days for me was "tribe". This may seem very odd for a them, so let me explain. I was sitting at dinner Monday night with a large group of educators and I was asked if I had been to SPARK before or a conference similar. I explained that I had not been to this conference before or any of its size. I also mentioned that it was surreal to me to meet people that I have such a strong connection with on Twitter, the people I go to after a hard day. They are the people that, whether they know it or not, are able to pull me out of the rut caused by the negativity around me.
The response is what really stuck with me "So what you are saying is you found your tribe."
MY TRIBE
If you were to Google "tribe definition," you would get the following: a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.
My definition is: A close community of people with a common culture and dialect. 
Loved meeting my #xplap family 
Our passion for our profession has brought us together and continues to strengthen us as we add members and share ideas. 
Through SPARK I was reminded why I push as hard as I do each day. As Kevin Honeycutt said if you are doing things right you can be "a lightening rod to other's fears" I desperately needed that extra boost, that power up. 
I don't want to lose the edu-magic of this conference. That is why I am writing this post. I am publicly making promises to my tribe. Vows that I will not forget the values I have gained. 
Here I go: 
To my XPLAP crew (#XPLAP): 
I vow to change the game of school. 
I vow to continue my game one piece at a time. 
I vow to let the game take a life of it's own. 
I vow to remember that I am the game master. 
Most importantly: 
I vow to always value the fun, the friendship and discovery that happens while playing a game!

To the keynotes Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt) and Marlena Gross-Taylor (@mgrosstaylor): 
I vow to speak out for the kids who have no one else to believe in them. 
I vow to continue to be that lightening rod if it means doing what is right for the students. 
I vow to avoid even the sigh that will judge a child. 
I vow to be the GPS for my students, not judging, just recalculating. 
I vow to constantly tell my students they are amazing and they will be successful
I vow to build the trophy cases and leave it to my students to fill them. 
Most importantly: 
I vow to push positivity and never give up!

To Joy Kirr (@joykirr)
I vow to embrace the chaos. 
I vow to continue to ask why and push my students to do the same. 
I vow to continue use student voice and student sharing as a vehicle for learning greatness. 
I vow to change some of the school terms I use to create a different atmosphere for my students. 
Most importantly: 
I vow to push away the negativity, whether it is with myself or with others. 

Chilling on the floor with Joy!

To myself: 
I vow to continue to reach out to these amazing people!
I vow to not give up fighting for what my students deserve!
Most importantly: 
I vow to never forget my edu-family, my tribe!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Legacy

I am sitting behind this keyboard with too many emotions. Most I am yet unclear how to effectively type them down in the wording they deserve (The delete button is my good friend tonight.)
In February, I was given news that was unbelievable and unbearable. My alma mater was suffering from financial hardship and therefore has to close. While there are deeper roots of politics and anger, this is the cold truth of it. The news hit me like a cold winter's wind. I felt stunned. I felt numb.
This was the place that I felt I had found myself.
 In high school I had many issues with bullies and coped with this by blending into my surroundings. I actually took pride in my invisibility skills until I realized how much I gave up of myself.
I felt like I finally shed my invisibility cloak during my time at SJC. I learned it was ok to be my kooky self, even better than ok in most cases. While the evil shadows of self doubt do find their way around me from time to time, I am out of that darkness. I don't need a cloak to protect me anymore. SJC had saved me in many ways and now it was dying. There was nothing I could do and the pain cut me deep.
My initial numb period about this news lasted awhile, with bursts of anger evenly spread throughout that time. It was wasn't until this weekend that I realized something. I was mourning something that I shouldn't mourn for. What I was so sad about isn't dying at all and really never will.
Let me explain.
This weekend was the Little 500 at Saint Joe. This is a go-kart race that the college holds every year. It is a giant celebration and alumni are always invited. Normally you would expect a splatter of alums here or there but this year everyone knew they had to come and celebrate with their Puma family. On this day, I played snapball with my friends, talked with professors that always believed in me, showed off my campus to my two small children, and erased the negativity I had linked to it's name since the news.

The closing cannot take away the friends I made. Yes they are not in one location anymore, but I know they are there for me.

The closing cannot take away the pride I have in myself for what I achieved in those four years.

The closing cannot take away the knowledge I gained there (book smarts and street smarts.)

The closing cannot take away the professors that shaped my life more than I think they realize.

I was mourning the college, yet I have gained everything I need, everything it could give me. Am I sad that others cannot have the same experience I did?... Absolutely! But I am a big believer in "Everything happens for a reason." They will find their experiences, their SJC.
I can only hope that through my actions, my words, my lessons, I can take those pieces of Saint Joe with me and therefore carry on a legacy stronger than a closing sign. I am the teacher I am due to SJC. It will never leave me and never close down. It will then pass on to the students I teach on a daily basis. Whether it's a snapball brain break, improv games in drama club, or the simple stories I tell, the legacy will live on.

#involvedforlife
#PumaNation

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Act of Happiness...

Disclaimer #1: The words below are not a reflection of anyone in particular, just a teacher mom who over analyzes children's movies.
Disclaimer #2: If you have not seen the Trolls movie, this post will spoil it!

The new Trolls movie is very popular at my house and is watched almost daily. In my constant watching, I picked up some themes and concepts that go hand and hand with not only teaching, but life in general.

Troll Tree: In the beginning sequence of the film, we are told that the Troll Tree was where the trolls lived in happiness. Trolls are insanely happy creatures whose main jobs were singing, dancing and hugging. 
Bergen: The Troll Tree and its happy inhabitants were in direct contrast of their environment, which was covered with beings called Bergen. Bergen were miserable creatures that could not seem to find happiness. 
Until...
they ate a troll. This made the Bergen happy for a moment. The people of Bergentown then made a holiday in which they ate trolls and therefore became happy for one day of the year.
At the end of the movie, the two main Bergens, King Gristle and Bridget discover, with the help of the Troll, Poppy, that true happiness was always inside of them. They just needed someone to help them bring it out. 
Troll Losing Happiness: Branch, one of the key characters in the movie, is a Troll. However, he does not look like the others around him. Branch lost his color and his happiness due to him feeling blame for his grandmother being captured and eaten by a Bergen. 
At the end of the movie, Poppy reaches a point where she feels hopeless. In this moment, she also loses her color and the happy disposition that goes with it. 
Sadness in the Troll Pot: Poppy has good reason to lose her hope in being happy.  She just learned that she had been betrayed by a good friend and all of her other friends and family have been thrown into a pot that is being carried to the Troll Feast. 
Regardless of the reason, the draining of Poppy's color triggers a chain reaction in the others around her. A once colorful pot of Trolls, becomes a vessel full of black and gray beings.
Branch is actually the hero in this scenario and sings everyone back into happiness. (It's my favorite part of the film!)

As teachers, we create a happiness in our classroom. True, our rooms are a safe environment for students to be themselves and reach their learning potential. However, our rooms are also a haven for us to create our own procedures and learning environment. I am not saying that we are all about singing, dancing, and hugging. What I am saying is that a true teacher is happiest when they are doing what they are meant to do, and that is making learning an interactive and exciting experience for students. Taking risks and making educational magic is what we do!

Our positive environment and learning happiness is safe within our Troll Tree. Yet, we cannot spend the entire day in our classrooms. There are times throughout the day that we must venture out and when we do, we run the risk of Bergens, those who struggle with happiness and positivity. They seem to feed on negative energy and spread it wherever they go. If we are not careful, our upbeat feelings about our lessons and student interactions could be eaten alive by the Bergens among us.

We may also encounter our Troll companions that, for whatever reason, have lost their color. It could be an event out of their control at home, a failed lesson, or an overall bad day. If we are not careful, whatever is bothering them has the powerful ability to drain our color as well. We might have had a great morning but that all can change when either a Bergen or colorless Troll crosses our path. The true danger here, and the point of it all, happens when you return to your Troll Tree. If you've been drained of your color and happiness, it can cause a horrible chain reaction in your classroom.
To combat this, we must remember that true happiness is inside each of us and sometimes we just need help finding it.

I read a poem to my students at the beginning of the year called "Thumbprint".  My favorite line is "I make my own sun and rain." I constantly highlight this line to my students, telling them that they can push past their circumstances and control their future and outlook. Yet there are moments, when I am out of my Troll Tree, that I fail to take my own advice. I become drained and my forecast becomes cloudy. I need to be more aware of this and use my weapons against the beasts of unhappiness. These could include: moments alone doing something that a makes me happy, talking to a Troll in my life that can bring back the color, listening to music, etc. Your list could be very different from mine, yet the mission is the same. As stated earlier, happiness is inside of each of us. It is our job to uncover it. As a teacher, this is especially important because we have a pot of precious Trolls among every day that depend on us to keep the happiness alive.  Also, schools cannot be successful when the happiness is closed off in the Troll Trees (classrooms). We must be like Poppy and promote happiness and positivity wherever we go. This creates a culture where success is inevitable!



Friday, January 13, 2017

The Role of Risk

My daughter and I have spent more time outside than usual on this winter break because of the warmer temperatures. The other day our outdoor adventure made me reflect on the role of risk in my classroom.
While chasing my crazy three year old around my yard, I noticed I had lost sight of our dog. It then became the mission of D'Arcy (my daughter) and I to spot Hooch (our dog). After a moment or two, we finally found the dog on the far corner of our yard in some tall weeds. I was completely satisfied with the simple act of calling him to us, yet this was not good enough for D'Arcy, who was determined to bring him in herself.
My daughter D'Arcy
I followed her until we reached a large puddle of ice. The ice was crystal clear and extremely thin. I warned my daughter of the dangers of slipping on the ice and immediately grabbed her hand. She smiled at me instantly and hesitantly took her first step on the frozen water. I followed right behind her by taking my first step on the ice.
Crack!!
We looked at each other with fear for the sound made us both nervous. The water below was not deep yet I was not in the mood with dealing with wet boots on either of us therefore I was ready to retreat. D'Arcy however shoots me a look of determination and takes another step. A smaller cracking sound was heard but it was not as menacing as the earlier sound. This lesser intense noise gave her the courage to step again... and again... and again...
Until our arms could not stretch anymore while remaining connected. 
"Come on Mommy!" She cried
"Mommy can't go on the ice baby! It will break!"
We had a bit of a stare down while it was sinking in on her that if she wanted to go farther on the ice, she would have to go without my hand and my help. After a couple of double takes back towards me, she looks forward and runs across the remainder of the frozen puddle. She was willing to take the risk and it paid off! She made it to the other side!
I went back into the house that morning thinking:

  • Are my students willing to take that kind of risk? How can I get my students to run across the ice without my help? One of the issues I seem to struggle with especially in 6th grade is the level of dependence on the educator in the classroom.  How do we know when to hold their hand and when they need to go alone across the ice? My class is very student centered and I truly think that is key here. D'Arcy did not go across the ice because I told her to. She made the choice. Do I think I'd be writing a much different post if she failed? Absolutely! Regardless she put herself out there. We can push our students to take these risks, but ultimately they have to make the choice to take a step on the ice. The question is how do we get them to that point with them coming back with the classic phrase that makes my skin crawl "This is hard!" Even though the projects in my classroom involve choice, I have noticed this year especially that students are going for easy and safe. I had a vocabulary tic tac toe project that completely failed in my eyes because all but five of my students (in all of my four classes) chose the same three boxes. Why are they afraid to run on the ice? 
  • What "runaway dog" can I put in place as a motivating factor for my students? Motivation is the secret ingredient in combatting the problem displayed in the first bullet. I could sit here and say that my students were taking the easy way out or I could ask myself what I did to motivate my students to take a risk. This year I started playing around with gamifying my classroom. To gamify is to take your class content and turn it into a gaming experience for your students. At first this idea seemed silly to me, because I have never been much of a gamer. However, I then found a program called ClassCraft (@ClassCraft). It provides the backbone of this emerging philosophy. The reaction from the kids was outstanding! Within the next calendar year, my intention is to expand on this concept by exploring adventure paths and adding more gaming elements.
  • What risks am I taking to better help my students succeed? The students should not be the only ones taking risks. My #OneWordChallenge2017 is PUSH.  This is a multiple step challenge. I will PUSH myself to write these blogs and get my voice out there. I will PUSH myself to do more to connect with my Twitter PLN. I will PUSH myself to try new things and not be afraid to try. I will PUSH myself to be the best educator that I can be.