Category Archives: Facing Challenges Positively

The Power of Optimism

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Ask the Students

ask the studentsOptimism is a quality that flavors everything all day long.  We can expect the best in our lives and therefore give the universe an opportuntity to attract good things our way.  Or we can worry and grumble about the bad things that always seem to invade our space.  It is a choice we make every day.

Every year I ask students to identify great teachers from their lives.  Then we write letters to them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that they describe the teacher’s personal qualities more often than they talk about the academic material that they learned.

Again and again I hear these comments…

She’s fun.

He likes to make jokes when he teaches.

He is so enthusiastic.

She doesn’t treat us like we are kids.

She is interested when we have problems.

We want to spend time with people who make us feel good.  Our students do too.  They are attracted to adults, parent, grandparents and teachers who are optimistic.

The Money Jar

The money jar

One of the differences I noticed between elementary aged children and teens is the lack of optimism that seems to prevail in the adolescent species.  Sometimes it seems like being optimistic isn’t cool.  When young children walk into your classroom, they are excited to see you and be in school.  They ask right away, “What do we get to do today?”

However, when teens walk in and I say, “Hi Tyler!  How are you this morning?”  One hundred percent of the time they say, “Tired,” or  “I don’t feel good.”  It can be downright depressing if you let it get to you.  I finally told my teens they had to give me a quarter for my reward jar every time they told me they were tired.  Did it stop them?  No.  But it made them think.  Now when I ask them how they are, they say things like, “I’d tell you, but it would cost me money.”

When I worked with teens on a daily basis, I had to listen to upbeat music on the way to school.  I used motivational or inspirational CDs in the car.  Do whatever it takes to remain optimistic for our students.  They need it from us.

On a Personal Note

 optimismEvery activity I write about is part of my personal teaching life.  Every story I tell is true.  On a rare occasion I talk about an experience with one of my children or grandchildren and explain lessons that they have taught me and ways they have changed me as a teacher.

Other than that I don’t mention my personal life very often.  Today I’m going to break that silence  just a little.  In December my husband suffered a heart attack and a stroke. I was absent on my Christmas Eve post because we spent 12 days in the hospital including all of the holidays.  This past Friday he had his second stroke.  We came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.   Yes, it is a bit stressful and emotional.  But there is always a choice in how we react.  I’m focusing on the progress he is making every day as his language gradually returns to him.  I’m feeling grateful that this stroke revealed a new heart issue that we didn’t know he had.  I’m believing his situation is temporary.  If I adopt a gloom and doom attitude, will it make anything better?  No.  It will rob us of the small joys we have everyday.

It is how we live our lives everyday that impacts our students (and children) the most.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed copies and large quantities available:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Conversations About our Schools

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conversations about our schoolsTrue Stories from My Past Week

Story # 1

I was visiting an elementary school this past week observing a college senior who is student teaching this semester.  As I left her classroom I was walking through the school hallway alone.  A kindergarten boy came running down the hallway on his way to the bathroom.  He was close to me before he noticed me.

He stopped running when he saw me, looked me up and down and said, “What school did YOU go to last year?”

I laughed all the way home about his comment.

moving teachersMoving Teachers

Story #2

On Saturday I visited a school district 45 minutes away to watch my granddaughter perform in a competition.  There was a lady I had never met before sitting behind me.  She began talking about her past week as a kindergarten teacher. Once I realized she was a kindergarten teacher, I turned around to tell her my story about the little boy in the hallway.  She listened and laughed.  When she realized I was also in the teaching profession she then said, “Let me tell you about my week at school.

“On Thursday of this week the administrators called a previously unannounced teachers’ meeting.  We found out at that meeting almost all of the third through sixth grade teachers will be leaving our urban school.  They are getting rid of all but two teachers in those grades because the students’ test scores came back too low.  The only reason we kindergarten through second grade teachers still have jobs is because our students don’t yet take the standardized tests.”

I was stunned.  “Are they firing all those teachers?” I asked.

She continued her tale, “No, they are moving them to another school in our district.  The other school is in a completely different neighborhood with an entirely different clientele.  Guess what?  Not so surprisingly their tests scores are higher.  Therefore the administrators (or somebody) believes those teachers are more effective.  They are bringing those ‘effective’ teachers to our school to boost our students’ test scores.  They are moving what they consider our ineffective teachers to the other school to learn from the ‘effective’ teachers still there.”

We smiled at each other and shook our heads.

I thought to myself, “Who is making these decisions?  Did they visit in both those schools?  What are educators even thinking? Or are educators even involved in any of these decisions?”  Like the kindergarten boy I met in the hallway I wondered, “What school did THEY go to last year?”

Value Added

Story #3

school

On Sunday I was in another school watching yet another grandchild participate in a function.  Next to me sat a wonderful, committed first year teacher.  I have known this young lady for years and am very aware of her standard of excellence.  I told her the story the kindergarten teacher shared with me.  She was disappointed, but not surprised.

She described a similar circumstance she had encountered.  School districts have become so reactionary to test scores that it seems like learning takes a back seat to the almighty score.  Everyone is talking about value added.

Note from me:  When schools talk about ‘value added’ these days they only mean how did you raise test Dauna Easleyscores?  They don’t mean how well do you communicate with parents, differentiate instruction, tutor or counsel students.  Value added means only, “What did you do to raise test scores on the standardized tests?”  I’m sad about that.  A valuable teacher is so much more than one number on a page.  Ask any student what constitutes a valuable teacher.  They will describe one accurately. But students’ opinions don’t factor into the equation either.  Only standardized test scores matter anymore.

This young teacher pointed out that her subject (foreign language) isn’t covered on the state standardized test.  But the teachers still have to prove ‘value added’.  Essentially all they have to do is make up a pre-test, then teach the skill and administer their own post test.  If the scores go up, they can prove value has been added.  She is professional enough and committed enough to recognize the irony in this scenario and she is only a first year teacher.

Isn’t this just a little like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop?

value added

It makes me sad to see educators running in circles like this.  The cry for higher test scores from politicians and the media….higher test scores,  no matter what the method… is causing otherwise intelligent people to make some pretty desperate decisions.  When we don’t know what to do, we just get forced into doing something whether it is worthwhile or not.

I want to ask the politicians, government officials and reporters who are complaining about our schools…in the words of a kindergarten boy…

What schools did you go to last year?

What teachers did you interview? Did you ask them how to raise test scores?

What did students suggest about how to identify effective teachers and raise test scores?

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed books and large quatities available from the author: dauna @cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

I Believe in You

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teacherTeachers Make the Difference

Effective schools are about so much more than just memorization of academic facts.  The very best schools have teachers who come into the profession to change lives.  They come into the classroom to share their passion for a subject, but refuse to stop there.  They want to make a permanent difference in their students’ lives.  They are constantly looking for ways to make that happen.

But sometimes the challenges teachers face in the classroom seem insurmountable.  Our American schools welcome every learning style, nationality, culture, and disability. They welcome students who are homeless, children of incarcerated parents, children born with the consequences of their parents’ drug addictions and/or illiteracy. That is what makes America wonderful and unique.  We value and are dedicated to an education for all children.  Our schools are not merely available for elite learners, as is the case in many other countries to whom we are unfavorably compared.  Committed teachers in the USA make it happen whether or not they have the financial support of their community, the supplies they need or the training they crave.

These days I help supervise and train young teachers.  They are optimistic, committed and begging for ideas to make a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Are you afraid?Let’s Start with “A”

Are Your Students Afraid?

Here’s an important piece of information not all students know or believe.  You (the teacher) have to tell them or they won’t know.  Everyone is afraid.  Adults are afraid when they start a new job, are assigned a new project or (gasp!) face new computer software in the workplace.  Many celebrities are afraid when they take the stage.  Great speakers are often afraid before a speech.

What separates the successes from the people who just stand along the sidelines and never get started isn’t the lack of being afraid.  They simply take action in spite of being afraid.  Only action can overcome fear.  When we are afraid of something and don’t confront it, the fear grows.  Inactivity fertilizes fear.  Next time we experience that situation we are even more afraid.  I have a crazy friend who is so terrified of bugs that she drove a car without air conditioning with the windows completely rolled up in Florida during the summer time because she was afraid a bug might fly in the window while she was driving. It was probably 120 degrees inside that car.  I know because I was in it!  (I wish I had just made that up but unfortunately it is a true story).

Only action breaks the chain of fear.  What can a teacher do?  Talk to students about a time you were afraid.  I was almost fifty when I wrote my first book.  Was I afraid no one would want to read it?  Yes.  Talk to them honestly and frankly about how you overcame a fear.  Help them make a plan for confronting something they have been afraid of approaching.  If we don’t do this, when they feel fear they may believe it is reason to give up on a dream.  They may believe that experiencing the fear is a sign telling them it is not wise to move forward.  They need to understand that fear is just a step in the process and that every successful person faces it and pushes forward anyway.

I believe in you“B”

Believe in Your Students

This is an outrageously obvious but too frequently overlooked concept.  Children very frequently see their future successes first through the eyes of an adult whom they love or admire.  Even before they can dream a dream for themselves we can plant a seed within them.  Watch how still and receptive they become when you begin telling them about a skill in which you see them excel.  I’ve told many teens that they are better writers that I was at their age.  I’m not faking this.  It’s the truth and that’s important.  Children can discern honesty.  I tell them I can’t wait to read their first book.  I ask them in advance for an autographed copy of their future books.  Someday I know I’ll have those books on my shelf.

Usually when we truly have a gift we don’t notice it so much.  It comes easily to us and we assume everyone can do it.  We believe if we can do this so easily, it must not be any big deal  It is a breakthrough moment when we realize that the thing we do which seems so trivial to us, is a talent that others admire.

It’s easy for me to be in awe of students with artistic ability as I have absolutely no talent whatsoever along these lines. But I can compliment them, ask them to design contest posters and scrapbook pages  I can ask them for a copy of a favorite drawing to hang in my classroom.  I don’t have to be an art teacher to help them realize they have artistic talent.  All of these strategies are outside my curriculum, but encouraging a talent which may become a future career may be the most important thing that takes place in my classroom on any given day.  Recently I was watching a documentary on a famous Hollywood artist.  How did his dream to make art his career begin?  His kindergarten teacher stood him up in front of her class and told his peers that he would be a famous artist someday.  Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s words to shape a life.

creative careers“C”

Creative Careers

Look for ways to help the important children in your life to think creatively about careers.  There are thousands of careers that our children never think about simply because they have no awareness of them.  The same is true of adults.

When my younger daughter was sick it was quite an eye opener for me in so many ways.  I never realized that hospitals are actually small communities.  It takes so many kinds of careers to make a hospital effective.  Why do we only think of the doctors and nurses?

I began to ask each technician about their job.  How did you find out about this career?  What do you like about your job?  How much schooling do you need?  I learned about phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, x-ray and MRI technicians, social workers, audiologists, patient advocates, dieticians, child life specialists and the person who weighs and measures your child each time you visit the oncology clinic.

One little girl I taught in preschool eventually became the person who runs the machine in the operating room that keeps patients alive during heart and lung transplants.  We need to develop a curiosity about careers so we can help our children find just the right one that ignites a flame in their spirit.  Our curiosity and sharing will encourage their curiosity to explore. Have them think creatively.  What do they love to do that they could turn into a career?  What inspires them?  The most satisfied adults turn their favorite pastimes into careers by thinking creatively.

heart words

Great teachers teach much more than the curriculum.  They excite learners.  They recognize and encourage talents.  They explore and share possibilities.  They listen, counsel, and validate the worth of every student.  They are not satisfied until they TEACH…To Change Lives.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Lessons for Teachers

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The teacher learnsLessons from the Greatest Teacher Of My Life

Ironically we met in a hospital and not in a school.  She wasn’t even the one who inspired me to become a teacher.  When we met, I had already been a teacher myself for fifteen years.  But that just made it easier for me to recognize what a master teacher she was.  I made myself a promise.  I would watch her carefully, ask questions, and learn everything I could.

The greatest teacher of my life is my daughter, Kelsey.  Born with cerebral palsy, she later developed brain cancer when she was five years old.  Vivid and remarkable are the lessons she taught me. I am a better teacher forever because of her patience with me.

learn to tie shoesA Challenge

When Kelsey was four, she wanted to learn to tie her shoes.  A best friend had accomplished this important childhood feat.  Even though I had worked with preschoolers for many years, I was stumped.  Because of cerebral palsy Kelsey was left with very little use of the fingers and thumb on her left hand.  I was unable to tie a shoe with one hand.  How could I teach her?  Medical insurance refused to cover occupational or physical therapy.  It seems the term “pre-existing condition” excuses them, forever, from a child’s needs.  We struggled for three and a half years with this one maddeningly simple task.  But she mastered it.  On the first day of summer vacation when she was seven and a half years old, as I watched and encouraged her she taught herself to tie her shoes with one hand.  She beamed from ear to ear.  I cried.

Lesson Learned

I noticed something important after she conquered her shoe laces.  No one ever asked her how old she was when she mastered the skill.  Lesson learned by this teacher?  In the long run learning pace is of little importance.  Accomplishing meaningful goals within our own timetable is what matters most.

Then Came the Cancer

Kelsey during cancer treatment

Throughout her cancer treatment, Kelsey gained some control over her circumstances through play.  Whenever we were in the hospital, she wanted to play “restaurant”.  She was always the waitress and I was cast as the customer.  Hours on end we played this game of her choice.  She lost herself in this dramatic- play-acting; it was if we weren’t in the hospital at all.

When we were home where she felt safe, she always wanted to play “hospital.”  In this game she was the doctor – in charge for a change.  Family members and friends had to be the patients. She developed a game called “radiation” that had an uncanny realism to it.  Her play often included medical terms her peers and many adults didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter.  She had found a healthy way to cope with the scary things that were happening to her in the hospital.  She did much better than cope.  She was happy.  What had I learned?  She taught me firsthand and emphatically about the important therapeutic value of play.

The Enthusiastic Ballerina

ballerinaWhen Kelsey was six she wanted to take ballet lessons. I’m embarrassed to admit how much this frightened me.  At the time she was in chemotherapy. Her muscles were weak from the chemo drugs.  She had very poor balance following her brain surgery and her weight had slipped to 34 pounds. There was an awkwardness to her left leg and arm due to her cerebral palsy.  She was bald and wore a patch over her left eye.  I was afraid she would fall and get hurt.  And, let’s be honest, I was afraid the other girls would make fun of her.

Fortunately I didn’t know how to tell my daughter about my fears, and she persisted with her request until I enrolled her in ballet class.  I had forgotten what she knew instinctively.  The process is always more important than the product.  She danced with joy.  The sheer fun of dancing was her goal. Did she fall?  Of course.  Was she awkward?  You bet.  Did it matter?  Not a bit.  Every child and adult who watched Kelsey dance gained something special from it.  Her dancing career lasted four years.  She only quit when she decided she wanted to take horseback riding lessons instead.  This time I had learned my lesson.  I signed her up without hesitating.

lesson from basketballLessons from Basketball

In fifth grade Kelsey excitedly brought home a registration form for intramural basketball.  She wanted to play.  I knew it would be a major challenge for her.  Our daughter could only run very slowly and with great difficulty.  She was also very short as her pituitary gland had been severely damaged by the cranial radiation she had received to survive cancer.  For many, many years she received a daily injection of growth hormone to grow at all.  She only had the use of one hand to play ball.  Caution bells went off inside my head again, but I had learned to ignore them.  The excitement in her eyes emphatically canceled out all those drawbacks.

We signed her up.  After the first practice the coach/gym teacher, George Losh, said he was afraid for her to play in a regular game.  He was afraid she would get hurt.  I’m certain lawsuits danced in his head.  But every child who participates in sports risks physical harm.  If her risk was greater, her need to belong was greater too.  We encouraged him to let her play.  George Losh’s physical education classes were always child-centered and structured so that every child could feel some measure of success.  For two years Kelsey played basketball harder than any girl in the league.  No, she never made a basket during a game.  Some huge successes are subtle.  In two years we never once saw a teammate treat her as anything other than as asset to the team.  After weeks of trying, when Kelsey made her first basket during practice, every girl in the entire gymnasium stopped to applaud.  Watching this young lady struggle and triumph increased the humanity of all who knew her.  On game days when we stopped in the grocery store, Kelsey quickly shed her winter coat into the grocery cart.  It took me a few times to figure out that she was so proud of her team shirt, she didn’t want it to go unnoticed under her coat.  She was thrilled to be part of a team.

Most Important Lesson of All

hurts

What is the single most important lesson Kelsey taught me?

Being excluded hurts.  Be certain of this.  The older my daughter grew, the more excluded she was… both by her peers and unfortunately by some teachers too.  Whatever educational jargon or current political term you choose to use, the results are still the same.  Being excluded hurts.

Possessing a physical disability or struggling with a different learning style did not rob my daughter of her sensitivity.  Being excluded hurts!  It hurts the children being excluded.  It robs them of the role models-their typically developing peers-they so greatly need.  It shortchange the children with ‘normal’ growth patterns too.  Inclusive environments reduce fears, build understanding, and teach compassion, patience, and tolerance in a way ‘special’ schools and ‘special’ classrooms never will.  Inclusive environments reflect life and the society in which we live.  How can we separate our children now and expect them to adjust successfully to one another at some magical, mythical time in the future?

Becoming a Great Teacher

Good teachers become great teachers when they become students themselves.  Children have much to teach us if we will only watch and listen carefully.  Kelsey’s dream of becoming a teacher did not end when her cancer returned and she died at age sixteen.  Kelsey was an incredible teacher all of her life. I cannot tell you how many times one of her teachers would come to me at the end of the year and say, “She taught me so much more than I taught her.”  I came to expect it, because I had learned that it was true.

Kelsey modeled for me how to handle rejection without becoming angry.  She showed me how to simply ignore seemingly insurmountable challenges and just focus on living life to the fullest.  She taught me how to more greatly appreciate the simple joys of family and traditions.  She modeled how to maintain a sense of humor and grace even in the face of death.  She has left the most incredible legacy for all who knew and loved her…and all my future students too.  She will forever be the greatest teacher of my life.  May her story touch your teaching life, too.

Kelsey Noel Easley

1982-1999

Kelsey's lessons

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Autographed or in large quantities from the author dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Bright Ideas for Dark Days

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bright ideas for dark days          The Teacher Was Absent

I post a new thought for teachers every Monday at this blog site.  However, on Monday December 24, my post was missing.  My apologies.  No, I wasn’t strolling on the beach as the photo seems to indicate.  I only wish that were the case.  My hubby was in the midst of a serious unexpected medical emergency.  I was at the hospital with him where I needed to be.  Yes, we spent the 10 days surrounding Christmas at the hospital, but our family came to see us there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  He continues to recover.  Thank you for your understanding.

Twenty Bright Ideas for Dark Days

Bight Ideas fo dark days

When the memory of those beautiful fall days begins to dim and spring still seems a lifetime away, we may feel our classroom enthusiasm begin to take a nose dive.  Some of you may drive to school and/or even home in the dark.  Do you need some ways to keep yourself upbeat for your students?  Remember:  We can’t pass along what we don’t possess.  Try some of these ideas that worked for me.

  1. Fake it till you make it.  This isn’t phony.  William James, the psychologist called this the “as if” principle.  If you want to feel enthusiastic act ‘as if’ you already are.  I learned this lesson clearly during a particularly tough time in my personal life.  It was my job to be at the school entrance to greet young children when they arrived in the morning.  No matter how down in the dumps I felt when I arrived, after 20 minutes of greeting one child after another with a big smile and a friendly observation or two, I felt better for the whole day.
  2. Allow for spontaneity.  Change your plans.  Put a new twist on an old lesson.  What is something you have never tried in your classroom before?  Now is the time!  When I was writing my two books for teachers I discovered something that surprised me.  The stories I wrote about were almost always the first time I tried an activity in the classroom.   If the activity was a success, then I would do it again in subsequent years.  But it was almost always the first time I did the activity that was the “memory maker.”  Fresh ideas spark our creativity and engage students in new ways. 
  3. Build an encouragement folder.  Whenever someone writes you a positive note for any reason, pop that note into a folder.  Pull out all those notes when you need to recharge your batteries.  It will pump up your confidence and make you feel great.
  4. Lighten up!  When you find yourself getting really angry about something, step back and try to laugh about it.  Mentally make it into a comedy routine if you have to.  In our profession we spend way too much time lamenting about policies and new systems that have really nothing to do with teaching.  Focus on your students and the teaching.  That is what attacted us to this profession. Let the other stuff bounce off you like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.
  5. Read motivational books or inspirational thoughts late at night or before work in the morning. The morning news depresses me.  I have found that I can’t listen to how many murders, rapes and fires happened overnight and then teach teenagers during the day.  But with the right music and uplifting thoughts in my head, I’m the best that I can be.  Don’t my students deserve this?
  6. Practice kindness.  Kindness helps absolutely everything.  It is the language the blind can see and the deaf can hear.  I’m far from perfect but I can tell you this:  The times I haven’t been kind haunt me.  Kindness lifts everyone, not just the receiver of the kindness, but also the giver too.
  7. Take a class that will help you reflect on your job in a positive way.  I teach future teachers, but still I take classes with the same titles as the classes I teach.  I always learn new ideas and teaching strategies in every class in which I enroll.  I can also be a valuable contributor to a class I’m taking.   Every time I have taken a class I’ve come back to the classroom with fresh ideas to try with my students.  I don’t care how experienced you are, there are always new things to learn if your attitude is in the right place.
  8. Write down new ideas the moment they pop into your mind. Try to take some action on them within 24 hours.  Someone invented sticky notes just for me.  I’m full of ideas that are gone in an instant.  The creativity of the sticky notes compels me to use them to organize my thoughts.  There are arrows, tabs, neon bursts, and 4×6 inch sticky notes for more lengthy ideas.  Use them to jot down ideas and then take action.  Action will put you in a better frame of mind 100% of the time. 
  9. Improve your work space.  Buy a new organizer or select a new picture.  I work best when I’m surrounded by quotes that inspire me.  If you don’t have an extra nickel to spare, clean your desk area.  I’m very creative but my desk is always a mess.  Every time I take the time to clear my desk it lifts my spirits.  What is an added bonus?  I find great things.  I come across a new idea for teaching or writing that I only had time to jot down previously.  When I discover it again, I run with it.
  10. Purge.  Don’t stop with just your desk.  Clean out your files as though you were taking a new job.  That happened to me once.  On the last day of school I didn’t know that I would be taking a new job during the summer months.  I left years of files and had to start fresh.  At first it was scary, but it also felt great.  I now had room to file all the new ideas and items I needed to do my job now.  Purge as though you are moving.
  11. Record uplifting music.  Listen to it on the way to work and while you are grading papers.  I always play music as my students enter the room.  It feels as though something exciting is going to happen.
  12. Compliment a co-worker.  Better yet, put the compliment in writing.  It will uplift the person receiving the compliment, but it will also make you feel great.  Try to encourage and compliment at least one co-worker per day.  Make it your own secret challenge.
  13. Set goals that move and inspire you.  Don’t choose hollow goals or goals someone else assigns you.  Set goals that matter to you and move forward on them.  When we feel great about ourselves we can better inspire and motivate others.
  14. Create a new bulletin board or display in your classroom.  Visually appealing surroundings encourage us and our students.  Look at your classroom as though you are walking in the door for the first time.  What strikes you? 
  15. Keep a gratitude journal.  I record five things for which I am grateful every night before I go to bed.  During the summer months I do this in the morning instead of at night.  This activity will change the focus of your day.  You will begin to look for positive events rather than focus on annoyances.
  16. Solve a problem.  Instead of complaining about how things ought to be, come up with a solution.  Everyone will be grateful.  You’ll be a hero and that feels terrific.
  17. Attend an educational conference.  You’ll rub elbows with other educators who are serious about improving their skills.  You’ll return to school rejuvenated and ready to try some new ideas you discover.  Better yet, become a presenter at a conference.  Share ideas that have worked in your classroom.
  18. Change your routine.  Have a mental list of some things you’ve been wanting to do someday?  We all have a list like this.  Take a weekend trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.  Call up an old friend or drop them an email.
  19. Share ideas.  You have so much talent among your co-workers.  Find a way to have each of them share their best ideas with the rest of you.  I once ran a monthly professional development experience in the school where I worked.  Each month I had a few teachers share their best ideas.  Don’t overlook the teacher next door.
  20. Most important tip of all!  Don’t eat lunch with the crab apples.  During this valuable time of day, surround yourself with people who speak highly of students and those who are excited about making their classrooms and your school a positive place to be.

Twenty tips may overwhelm you.  But I believe if you try even a few of these ideas you won’t be just counting the days until spring; you’ll be doing things that make every day count.  Welcome 2013 into your life and your classroom.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Or autographed or in large quantities directly from the author  dauna@cinci.rr.com

TEACH...To Change Lives

The Power of Quiet Words

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Can You Hear Me Now?

heart wordsA few years back I spotted a small hand-made pillow at a craft fair which had wonderful words embroidered on it.  I purchased it and put in on the seat of an old-fashioned school desk that I kept in a corner of my classroom.  I used it as a reminder for me and all the future teachers that I taught.  What did the embroidery say?

“Words that soak into the heart are whispered, never yelled.”

Since I have retired from full-time teaching, that little pillow sits in a small child-sized wicker rocker that I have in my home for my grandchildren.  What powerful words those are.

Just this last week as I traveled from school to school to observe future teachers in training, one of them complained to me.  “My voice doesn’t travel well in the classroom.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to control my students because they won’t be able to hear me.”  I explained to that young aspiring teacher that a soft voice can be an asset, if you know how to use it well.  I quoted my pillow.

When to Yell

Never.  Alright, maybe if there is a tsunami wave on the beach right outside your school building and you quickly enter your noisy school cafeteria.  You must get them to listen to immediate emergency directions.  THEN you may yell…once.

But in every other teaching situation, to speak effectively, speak quietly.  When someone yells at us, we Don't yellfreeze.  Our survival instinct kicks in and we desperately try to separate ourselves from the environment.  We feel like a raccoon caught in bright headlights.  Unfortunately students usually cannot just get up and leave a classroom when a teacher yells at them.  But they flee mentally or emotionally when someone raises their voice.  The teacher may be yelling, trying to make a point, but the student isn’t really “there” at all.  And yet there is some kind of instinct we too often develop while growing up watching our parents.  Why is it we think, “If they don’t get it, we should just say it again…only louder.” ? We repeat the same explanations  in the exact same way only with more volume, then they’ll understand.  Right?  Wrong.

shhhhQuiet words sink in.  Words spoken softly don’t shut us down.  Quiet words encourage us and help us breakthrough to understanding.  They reassure us of our worth.  When you sit next to a student and give them kind, quiet, reassuring directions and compliments it opens a student to learning heights they may have previously doubted they would ever achieve.  Quiet words invite us into the learning process.  They break through our resistance to new ideas and thoughts.

I once watched a master teacher named Nancy McClimans demonstrate the power of quiet words.  She always spoke to her first graders in a quiet, calm voice.  When she really wanted their attention, she would speak quietly and with each sentence she would make her voice just a little bit softer.  Within seconds the students were completely still, giving her total eye contact and even leaning forward to catch every important word.  Try this strategy.  You will be amazed at its power.

Quiet calm words are even more important when working with students from an ‘at risk’ environment.  Too many of today’s children hear yelling in their homes.  It  also surrounds them on reality television.  On TV students watch talk shows and opinion panels during which every participant over talks or even over shouts every other member of the panel.  How do you effectively respond to a shouting out-of-control student? There is only one way… with quiet, calm words.

Teach to Change Lives small cover jpeg

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com  

Or autographed or in large quantities from the author at dauna@cinci.rr.com

An apology and a disclaimer.  WordPress (my blog site) has made some changes which I’m finding difficult to maneuver.  I usually post on Monday mornings, but last week on Sunday Dec. 2nd I apparently hit a wrong button and my article posted before it was finished.  It didn’t have a conclusion or even any editing. At that point words were spelled incorrectly and some words were even missing.  I fear some of my most loyal followers who subscribe to my blog got a far inferior version of my regular blog.  My humble apologies.  Please be patient with me as I learn the new twists and turns of wordpress.

Dear Teacher,

Standard

A Letter from a Student

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_9732125_3d-illustration-of-mailbox-with-many-letters-over-blue-sky-background.html'>madmaxer / 123RF Stock Photo</a>When I taught young children I used to receive short love notes from them all the time.  They’d tell me that they loved me and insert a picture they had drawn just for me.  Little kids would bring me an apple or a flower from their garden.  I felt valued and appreciated.

I didn’t believe that would happen when I moved into the high school to teach.  But I was wrong.  I have 3 ring notebooks full of notes and letters teens wrote to me.  There were, of course, some differences.  Teens usually dropped a note on my desk quickly when no one else was in the room and then they’d make an exit through the classroom door as fast as they could.  Once they believed I truly cared about them, they would pour their hearts out to me. They would write about a crisis in their lives. Or sometimes they’d write to tell me about something I had said or read to them during class and admit how it touched them or encouraged them.

I’m going to share (with the writer’s permission) one of those letters with you. This letter was written by Sarah.  Sarah had become a single mom at age sixteen.  She was 17 when she wrote this and had been in my classroom for only about 3 months.  She was intelligent and caring, but she didn’t trust people very much. She dressed with a flair that usually resulted in her peers categorizing her as someone outside their circle. She might wear a black leather studded collar or bracelet along with a pink tutu on the same day.  She had gorgeous strawberry blonde hair that women would pay hundreds of dollars to have created at a salon, but Sarah was apt to have a purple or pink stripe running through hers.

I share this letter humbly, not to boast about my relationship with students, but to help teachers understand what it is that our students really need.  Read between the lines and listen to what Sarah desperately wanted.

Dear Mrs. Easley,

“I would truly like to thank you.  You are a great inspiration to me and a great role model as well. You have done everything in your life that I would hope to do in mine. You have become an amazing teacher, one who truly touches the lives of many she comes in contact with.  You have opened your own school and most importantly you are a dedicated mother to your own children even after they are gone.

Through life I have learned many lessons.  I have learned that there are people who will enjoy hurting you, who will enjoy beating you down, who enjoy seeing you cry. But I have also learned you can’t let them stop you.  You are your own person, you can do what you wish, you can be who you want and no one can stop you. Your classroom lets me be the person I want to be. You do not judge me. You see my intelligence, not my clothing, you see me. I have never had a teacher say they admire me before, when you did, I felt strong. I have never felt strong.

I’m sorry for the struggles you have had to face. Losing a child is hard. I hope I never have to learn how that feels first hand. But Kelsey would be proud of you.  You have become so much to children of all ages. I know I am proud of you. I do not have a mother to fall back on. I don’t have parents that support me, I have ones that push. You encourage me; you know what I am capable of and expect me to show it and know myself.

I love to be myself, but sometimes it’s hard to do. You have let me know that you should never be afraid to be yourself. I hope I can instill that in my daughter.  She has helped me to grow so much.  How much she has helped me makes me realize why you are such a good teacher; you had your children to help you learn.

I truly hope that one day I can be like you.  Just this short time with you has opened my eyes. At first I was not sure about teaching; now I know it is what I have to do. You are an inspiration to your students, Mrs. Easley whether they realize this now or not. You have instilled lessons in us that at this time may seem pointless but later will show such immense value. Thanks to your class.  Thanks to your stories, I really know I can make a difference, like the one you have made with me.

I cannot entirely describe my gratitude through a letter so attached is a poem, one that I have written just for you, describing the feelings I hold toward you now.

Thank you,

Sarah

A mother never wanted me

A family threw me away

I was lost in apathy

Not wanting to survive each day.

School became the home I wanted

Books my seclusion

Writing as my outlet

Loving the illusion

I may not fully thrive at this

But nor do I fail

I only use it to find myself

And with that I do prevail.

A classroom like this

Makes me feel unharmed

A place where I feel welcomed

Where I need not feel alarmed.

People welcome me everyday

Faces painted up with smiles

Giving me encouragement

Helping me through painful miles.

They do not know all my struggles,

But they have let me know

That they are here for me

To help me all the way I have to go.

You have helped me the most

Showing me encouragement and light,

Giving me a warming smile

To let me know what’s right.

Learning from your experiences

As I have learned from mine

Mothers and teachers alike

We are two of a kind.

I feel like I connect with you

We express ourselves the same

To others school is work

To me it is a game.

Nothing compared to the outside world

It is easy within these walls

You either succeed or you fail

Outside few hear your calls.

You have made me realize

I should learn as I go

Teaching me of both school and reality

I now know what I need to know.

Thank you…

Teens take writing notes to their teacher to a whole new powerful level. If you let them know that they matter to you, they will, sooner or later, make you aware of how much they appreciate your commitment to them. I didn’t read Sarah’s note without tears. Can you imagine how many times I’ve read it?  On those tough days, it became a beacon to me. It touched me so much, that when I wrote my book TEACH…To Change Lives I included her letter in my book (after receiving her permission, of course).  Using Sarah’s words helps me encourage teachers.  It reminds them of the important role they play in their students’ lives.  You see I honestly do believe that we teach to change lives.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

(or in quantities from the author at dauna@cinci.rr.com)