Category Archives: Meaningful Moments

Letters from Teachers

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Lucky Me

Lucky MeI’m a lucky lady alright.  Not only have I had the chance to spend decades involved in the teaching profession that I love, I’ve also been invited to speak to teacher audiences in 37 states.  Sometimes I speak at conferences.  Other times I’m invited to encourage teachers in individual school districts.  I love to use my speaking skills to inspire and encourage teachers.

Have you ever wondered what teachers are thinking?  I have scores of letters from teachers who write to me after they hear me speak.  They tell me exactly what is on their minds.  Listen in on what they have to say.

Dear Dauna,

… Last Friday, as school ended, I was scrubbing up a whole bottle of dried syrupletters from teachers that had been thrown into the broom closet.  At that point I was thinking, “Why did I ever sign up to attend this conference next week?  I still have things to do here AND at home!”  Now I am so glad I came   You were fantastic.  You have made this whole conference worthwhile.  I get the feeling that you are the kind of teacher who would have syrup spill in your closet too.

… You really touched our teachers.  You gave them something that doesn’t come in books or on the internet.  You shared YOU!  Your human compassion and common sense encouraged them like nothing else can.  You gave them a glow that they will not forget.

…Your stories were so moving and so real.  I came away feeling very proud to be a teacher and there are not enough of those moments.

… What a gift you have to move people with your true stories about teaching.  God bless you.

… I’ve been coming to these conferences with the same group of guys for years.  We really enjoy each other’s company.  Frankly we usually just sit in the back and talk through the presentations.  When you gave your speech it was the first time not one of us said anything.  You really hooked us.

… I knew from the moment you stepped in front of our group that you were going to be a huge success.  You have a magic aura around you.  Thank you for turning me into a hero because I was the one who invited you to our state to speak.  I feel as though I’ve not just heard a great teacher speak, I feel as though I’ve made a new friend.

… You humbled me by talking about your failures.  We all have failures but we forget the positive impact we can have by sharing those failures with others.

… My goodness you are an amazing speaker!  I have never seen anyone, ever, control an audience like you did.

( I can’t help it.  I just have to tell you.  That last comment was written by a Georgia senator about ten years ago).

… You made me think of all the teachers whom I should thank.  I hope and pray that someday someone feels the same way toward me.  I know God has put me here for a reason.  Thank you for helping me realize that I may be touching someone right now, even though I can’t see it.

… I almost didn’t come back today.  I’ve been driving to Columbus an hour each way for the past three days to attend this conference.  Last night I almost decided to stay home and avoid one more day of that drive.  But, because of you I’m so glad I didn’t stay home.  You made all that driving for all three  days worthwhile?  Next year you should speak all three days.

… I’ve always thought of myself as a positive person.  I honestly try to take this into the classroom every day.  But at times it’s hard to smile at the little SOB who gives me a rough time.  But after listening to you today, I make you three promises:

  1. I will smile at my problem child.
  2. Every student of mine will hear the fish story.
  3. I will write my 8th grade English teacher a thank you letter.

… At last they finally bring in someone to speak to us who REALLY KNOWS what it’s like to teach.  I felt like you were inside my head hearing my thoughts.  You have had all my same frustrations but you helped me realize that I might really be making a difference.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me hang in there.

… I came here worn out and wrung out.  You lifted a heavy load from my shoulders and a weight from my chest.

… You know the most important thing I learned from you today?  It is OK to be goofy.  You are a riot!

… Last night I was talking to my wife about how “the job” was going.  I told her I was considering going back into industry because I didn’t feel like I was having a positive impact on my students.  Can it possibly be an accident that I heard you speak today?  Wow, have you given me a boost!  I can go back into the classroom with a positive attitude.  You have reminded me of why I chose teaching.

… You could never believe how much I needed to hear the message you gave us today.  You were speaking directly to me.  I believe your stories will help me be a better person as well as a better teacher.

…I never would have believed I could laugh so hard –  and cry too – in ninety minutes.  The time went by too quickly.  Please come back!

..I’m really not a warm and fuzzy person, but today you have inspired me to work harder and listen to my students more.

…My staff suggested I get you to come back once a month for a shot in the arm.  You touched all of us in a special way.

… I hope someone, somewhere, lets me know I’ve been a positive influence in their life.  Thanks for giving me hope.

Now Dear Readers, Will You Do Me a Favor?

Dauna Casual 2

  • If you enjoy reading my blog posts, could you recommend me to someone who hires speakers to encourage teachers?
  • I’d love to be the opening speaker at your school next year.  Contact me.
  • Are you a teacher who attends in service meetings?  Could you share a link from my blog posts with the person who invites speakers to your district?
  • Are you in charge of hiring speakers for teacher conferences?
  • My email address is the best way to reach me:   dauna@cinci.rr.com

My past audience members are the ones who encouraged me to write a book for teachers.  I’ve now written two.  Some universities are having their education students read my books.  Here is my most recent book for teachers.

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

A Parent Teacher Conference I’ll Never Forget

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Meaningful Moments

parent teacher conferenceI taught for more decades than I care to admit. During that time I’ve probably conducted thousands of parent teacher conferences.  Many of those memories run together.  However possibly a dozen parent conferences stand out in my mind because of what they taught me.

One time while teaching future teachers in a Teacher Academy program at high school level, I had the opportunity to talk with Jack’s mom.  Jack was a junior in my class and an all around great guy.  Everyone loved Jack. This particular class happened to be dominated by girls which meant that sometimes there was female drama percolating just below the surface within the classroom. But somehow Jack could stay above it and even maintain a friendship with every single female in the class.  Watching him I knew he had the diplomacy, humor and kindness to be a great teacher.  He instinctively knew how to make people feel valued.

Early in the year I asked the students in my Teacher Academy to give a speech on any topic of their own choosing.   I wanted them to use the Smart Board, make slides, practice speaking comfortably in front of the class so I allowed the topic to be a topic of their choice.  Jack’s topic surprised all of us.

How NOT to Get a Girlfriend

As speeches go it was terrific.  He had the attention of every person in the classroom.  He had made wonderful slides.  His premise was that girls aren’t really attracted to the thoughtful, nice guys.

  • Drive them to school and carry their books from class to class….THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Listen to them talk about their boyfriend’s bad habits and build up their self esteem…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Bring them a flower or buy them a dessert in the cafeteria…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.

He went through several such examples accompanied by humorous slides.  Every person in the class was laughing and attentive.  They could hear the truth in his comments.  When he had his audience primed and ready,  Jack showed his final slide titled…

The Only Way to REALLY Get a Girlfriend

  • Reach into your pockets filled with lots of money, pull the money out and say, “I have all this money to spend and I don’t know what to do with it.  Do you want to go to the mall?”  THEN you’ll have a girlfriend.

Needless to say it was a very effective speech for a room full of high school students.  Everyone was laughing and recognizing the uncomfortable truth in some of what Jack was saying.  Why do high school girls overlook some of the best guys?

The Parent Teacher Conference Continues

I love telling parents cute stories about their kids.  I thought perhaps Jack had told his family about his speech at home, maybe even practiced it in front of them, but he hadn’t.  As I told his mom this story I could see that she was hearing it for the first time.  I was laughing but she had tears in her eyes.  I was confused.  I paused to let her tell me why she was upset.  She was too emotional to speak so she motioned for me to continue.

I started to understand that she had bad news to share, but I went on to tell her another story about Jack.  He knew even as a junior in high school that he wanted to teach junior high level.  Part of my job was to procure placements within the district for my students to shadow current professional teachers.  I had Jack placed in a junior high classroom.  It is daunting for even adults to get up in front of junior high students and maintain control of the class.  Jack was only a junior in high school, just a couple of years older than these young teens, and yet he had an instinct for handling this age group using just the right combination of firmness and humor.  He impressed even this seasoned teacher. I described to his mom a class I saw him teach successfully in a junior high health class.

By now Jack’s mom had tears running down her cheeks.  She was openly crying. I knew that she was going to reveal that she had a life threatening illness.  I braced myself for the bad news and was thinking of encouraging things I might say in response.  I waited a few beats and asked, “So why the tears?”

Here’s what she said while trying hard to control her emotions.

Mrs. Easley, Jack has two older sisters, both of whom knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. They knew what their career path would be from a young age and then went straight toward their goals.  Jack has been so different from them.  He didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do.  In Junior High he just seemed to get off course.  His grades started to slip.  Things he cared about previously he just kind of gave up on.  His friends changed.  We have just been so worried about him.  We just wanted him to find something he loved.  We’ve had so many conversations about what was going to happen to Jack.

She paused.

When he signed up for the Teacher Academy program we were surprised…pleased, but maybe just a little skeptical.  But right now, in the past ten minutes, listening to you, I realize that Jack has found his niche.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the stories you shared with me.  Jack has found his niche. It is the biggest relief to know that he has found something he loves and then to know he is good at it…it is the best possible news.

It took a lot of kleenex for her to get her story out.  Her gratitude and relief was so great that she just let the tears flow.

It is one of the conferences I will never forget.  I had completely blindsided her with good news.  Isn’t it wonderful when a teacher can play that role?  It gave me a renewed resolve to take time to share stories with parents.  Conferences aren’t just about rattling off test scores and homework expectations.  The very best parent teacher conferences are about listening to parents and then blindsiding them with great news and stories about their kid.

Guess What?

A couple of weeks ago I heard from Jack.  I think of him frequently and even made an attempt to find him last summer, but failed.  But only a couple of weeks ago his name popped up on my Facebook page.  He now has his Masters Degree in Education from The Ohio State University.  I’m impressed but not surprised. He has a long-term substitute teaching job, with a full-time teaching job possibility on the horizon.  Oh, and also he coaches a junior high girls’ basketball team.

I know he is going to be great with this age group, even the ones who get a little off course…maybe especially those kids.  I know he is just the kind of guy who will blindside their parents with good news at conference time.

On the days when my life has too many challenges, I think about all the wonderful kids I knew when they were aspiring future teachers.  Most of them are in the classroom now or only a year or two away from it.  It makes me optimistic about our schools’ future and optimistic about the teachers in front of today’s students.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Great Classroom Activity

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Which Words Rule Our Lives?

Words that Rule Our LivesIt’s important for us that we know the words that rule our lives. This is a great activity I learned from my own high school students, Taylor and Cody.  The assignment was for each of my students who aspired to be future teachers, to teach a lesson in front of their classmates.  At the time of this assignment the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are had just been made into a movie and was being shown in theaters.  Taylor and Cody began their lesson by having the students watch the movie trailer.  In a very effective style the trailer pointed out that each of us has three words within us.  We all possess a little fear.  We all crave a little adventure.  And we all need a little hope.

movie trailerHow clever Taylor and Cody were to get Hollywood to create the hook for their lesson!  The movie trailer was quite effective and had every student’s attention.  The “teachers” then asked the class to focus on those three words:  fear, adventure and hope.

Decide which one of those words rules your life.

Think about it and then share it with your peers.

After a few minutes of thought they brought the class together into a cozy circle.

teens in a circle

Each student truthfully described which of these three words currently seemed to dominate their lives.  They were very honest and revealing.  (I believe students truly want to share what is on their minds.  I’ve seen it too many times to be wrong about this).  It is the challenge of an insightful teacher to find a vehicle that will encourage that sharing.

After everyone had shared their thoughts, the teaching partners posed a second question…

Are you satisfied with the word that seems to drive your life right now?

Once again the students took turns sharing their answers.  This kind of activity will only be successful if a teacher has previously created a safe, accepting environment in which all students feel free to share.  Once again the answers were candid and insightful.  This activity forced each of us to assess our lives.  It forced us to evaluate our motives, to really think about the choices we were making and whether those choices served us well.  It also built tremendous understanding and empathy among class members.  It deepened our sense of community.  As a side benefit it is important to recognize…bullies can’t thrive when you build a sense of acceptance within a classroom community.  How proud I was of my students for creating such an effective experience for our class.

dream big

Is there one word that seems to drive your life?  Fear?  Adventure? Hope?  Which one is it?  I always participate fully in any revealing activity like this in my classroom.  It bonds the teacher with the class.  It builds understanding across generations and defines the classroom as a safe place.  Even more important it shows the students the teacher is willing to talk about feelings.  It gives them the courage to approach the teacher when something really important is on their minds.  It puts a welcome mat in front of the door to your classroom and your heart.

Thank you Taylor and Cody, for creating this wonderful lesson for me to share with others!

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

Time

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two dadsTime Matters

Unfortunately children and students spell the word love  T-I-M-E.  Nothing is more valuable to them than your time. Though it may seem that the only thing they crave is the latest electronic device, what they really want most is your attention.  Remember: ninety percent of the time they spend on electronic devices connects them to people.  Simple translation?  The more time you spend with them, the more they believe you care about them.  This can be good and bad news.  Time seems to be what busy teachers and parents possess least.  Unfortunately there is no substitute.  We have to be diligent and creative about finding that time to spend with them.

robe dayA Special Request

My daughter, Kelsey, used to request a “robe day”.  Usually when we cleaned the house we’d turn up the music really loudly, stay in our robes and clean together.  When the music served up an especially favorite song we might boogie together.  But in Kelsey’s world “robe day” meant that mom wasn’t going anywhere…no work or errands… (you don’t leave the house in your robe)…just time together.  I learned that when she requested a robe day she needed my presence and that’s what I gave her.

parentingMy teacher friend, Barb, went through an especially busy time helping her husband while he was president of a national professional organization.  At the end of a busy year she thanked her children for their patience and asked the two of them what special things they would like to do.  Her son came up with a list of specific outings that he desired, but her younger daughter, Aimee, simply said,  “Mom, remember when we used to water the flowers together?  That’s what I want to do, just you and I watering flowers together.”  I’ve never forgotten that one simple request.  While we race around in our career trying to provide material items we think our children crave, what they really want most is simply our time.

How Can Teachers Find Time?

teachersFor teachers, finding this one-on-one time can be especially challenging.  Greeting each student as they enter the classroom is a start, but real connections require so much more.  In a high school setting I’ve learned that invariably certain students will figure out when my plan period or lunch time is and somehow just start showing up.  It’s hard not to think, “I need this time to answer emails or run to the copy machine.”  Because, in fact, it seems like these days the pressure we face to post each grade and syllabus online promptly, robs us of one-on-one time with our students.  As much as possible I fight the urge to spend my planning time serving the computer instead of providing a listening ear to my students.

taking a closer look at schools

Rapport, especially a trusting one, unfortunately takes time.  A student will show up unannounced with seemingly no agenda several times before s/he trusts you enough to talk to you about what is really on his/her mind.  Field trips are another good way to connect.  I’ve had some of my best discussions with students on a long bus ride or in a hotel room spending the night at a competition.  Outside the classroom the teacher seems more like a mentor and less like someone who averages grades.

baseball is lifeOther Ways to Connect

Speaking of outside the classroom, I try to attend sports events, drama productions and graduation parties to which I am invited.  I’ve gone to dance recitals, sign language concerts, gymnastics meets, winter guard showcases, bar mitzvahs, reunions, movies, showers and weddings.  Why?  A relationship doesn’t start and stop at the classroom door.  The time within the classroom walls just isn’t enough to develop the ongoing relationships I want to have with my students.  We can’t put more hours into a day, but we can think in creative ways to use that time well.

A few years ago our high school was in the state baseball championship.  I took my grandson (who was a young baseball player) and drove two hours to the state capital to see it.  In that way I spent quality time with my grandson while also supporting the efforts of my students.  My young granddaughters and husband go with me to drama productions and color guard showcases.  I get to see my students excelling in a non academic arena and spend time showing my grandchildren an extra curricular activity in which they may want to participate when they are older.  Guess what?  My grandson is now a varsity baseball player making plans to play college baseball.  My oldest granddaughter is in high school color guard and winter guard and another granddaughter is on the school gymnastics team.

Unfortunately we can’t put more hours in a day, but we can think outside the clock and look for winning ways to make time for all whom we love and want to encourage.

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

The Kiss

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singing off keySinging Off Key

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki out loud and a little off-key.  My high school senior students were cutting, gluing, coloring and assembling learning games for preschoolers.  It wasn’t one of those times the classroom needed to be quiet.  No one responded to Nikki’s short impromptu song.  Some were having conversations of their own as they worked.

“Then he kissed me,” chimed Nikki again.  I was working on something at my desk.  No comment came from me either.

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki a third time as she continued to work.  Finally she turned to her classmates.   “I can’t get that song out of my head.  How does the rest of it go?”  A few classmates looked interested but no correct answers came forth.

Someone said, “I think it’s from a movie.”

Another one offered, “Was it in Pretty Woman?”

Silently I chuckled to myself.  That song was from my era, way, way back. Of course, a teenager who heard it in a movie today might think it was more recent.  A brief conversation among my students followed.  No one asked my opinion.  Several students suggested movies they thought featured the song. I made a quick internal decision.

Be Ready

Teachable Moments = Reachable Moments

Act Quickly

singing off keyWithout looking up from my work, giving absolutely no eye contact, I started to sing slowly.

“Each time I saw him I couldn’t wait to see him again.”

I stopped singing, but I continued working.  I still had not looked up.  From the periphery of my vision I could see them glancing at one another.  Are we hearing things?  Was the teacher singing?  No way.  I waited a long pause.  Eyes down, still looking intent on my work, I sang another line with feeling.

“I wanted to let him know that he was more than a friend.”

Oh good grief the teacher was singing.  How embarrassing was this?  You could feel the discomfort in the room.  Had Mrs. Easley gone mad?  But not one person spoke.  All eyes were glued to me.  Finally I looked up as I sang the next line.  I made slow and deliberate eye contact with each of them.

“I didn’t know just what to do”

(Pause)

“And so I whispered ‘I love you’.”

I waited even a longer pause.  They were frozen.  No one even breathed.  They had almost forgotten how embarrassed they were.  They were totally hooked into the story of the song.  When I knew I “had” them all I sang on slowly and deliberately.

He said that he loved me too…

And then he kissed me.”

The kiss

You could feel the sigh in the room.  Not one person said a word.  Nobody wanted to break the spell. Finally I spoke.

“Ladies, a kiss well done, I mean really well done is the sexiest experience in the world.  That’s because a totally great kiss carries so much emotion in it.  If you don’t think so, you’ve been kissing the wrong toads.  Take your time…and enjoy the kisses, ladies.”

A couple of the girls nodded.  I happened to be teaching in what we call an at-risk environment. This senior class had several young mothers and a couple of pregnant students too.  Clearly some toads had already arrived.

toads had arrived

But you could see that they agreed with me.  I wanted to remind them that they truly deserved some great kisses.  Slowly and only gradually they went back to work.  There was a hush, a closeness, in the room.  “The Kiss Lesson” wasn’t anywhere in my lesson plans or daily objectives.  If I had been with another group of students it might never have happened.  But it was the best and most memorable thing that happened that day…for all of us.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

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

Classroom Activities that are Memorable

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get out of townGet Out of Town

One of the tough things about teaching is that you are so strictly tied into the school calendar.  In the middle of winter, when I’d like to be heading for the sunshine state, I’m stuck in the classroom.  Truth is, ten months a year classroom educators are just about as tied to a static location as anyone possibly can be.

Early in my career I discovered an effective way to get out-of-town when bad weather or boredom set in.  I plan an imaginary jet trip.  Don’t scoff until you’ve tried it.  The first time I attempted it, I admit I was young and green and would try anything.  My third graders were learning about New York City. In an attempt to make the experience more creative than simply reading from a textbook, I dreamed up taking an imaginary jet trip to the Big Apple.  I really talked it up to the children. In fact, I made it so real several of my students just mentally cancelled out the word “imaginary.”  Parents were calling the school to tell the principal or me that their children were afraid to get on the plane.  I had a lot of explaining to do.

Taking Off

imaginary jet trip

On the day of the “flight” the children arrived with their suitcases packed and their dads’ belts in tow.  We were going to use those dads’ belts as seat belts on the plane. Beforehand the children were given a weather report of the intended destination and some advice on what they might want to pack.  We always pretended we were going to spend the night so pajamas and favorite sleep items came along.  One of the most interesting activities we did while flying’was to unpack each child’s suitcase and examine what they had chosen to bring along.

For our flight the classroom chairs were arranged as seats might be on the inside of a jet.  We used tickets, now generated by a computer which made them very realistic and provided a great souvenir.  Students acted the parts of all the airline personnel.  We had a pilot and co-pilot complete with earphones and hats for realism.  We had ticket takers who stamped the tickets and baggage claim agents who tagged the luggage and took it away to the rear of the plane.  We usually used a wagon for a baggage cart.  Flight attendants welcomed the passengers aboard as they walked over a couple of steps we had arranged next to the plane.  Attendants then instructed the passengers to stow items under their seats and checked to make sure seatbelts were securely fastened.  They also served a snack while en route.  Personnel in the front office of the school used the intercom to welcome the passengers aboard the flight and invited them to sit back and relax as they flew.

We never had a plane crash, but we did one time encounter quite a bit of turbulance. 

turbulance

We were comfortably belted into our seats and watching a slide show of  New York tourist attractions when the school fire alarm went off.  I silently cursed the office personnel who I assumed were doing this as a prank.  The alarm had sounded shortly after they had come over the PA system to welcome us aboard.  They knew all my students were belted into their seats.  But in front of the students there was nothing to do but struggle along with them to help them unfasten their dads’ belts one by one.

We were by far the last class to arrive outside.  Finally we received the “all clear” signal to reenter the building.  I was doing my best to recreate the imaginary mood of the flight and had everyone buckled back in and almost calm when the fire alarm went off again.  I couldn’t believe it.  The first time might have been funny, but his was downright irritating.  It took us even longer this time to make it to our designated safe location.  I later learned that the fire inspector had indeed paid an unexpected visit to our school.  Because of my class we had flunked the inspection.  The fire official had waited a short time to give us a second chance, but we flunked again, royally.  Oops!  Apparently creativity has its price.

While I first used this activity in the elementary grades, I admit I have used it successfully for just about every age group.  It has become a yearly tradition in my classroom.  My senior early childhood education students get very involved with setting up the plans and activities for our laboratory preschool.  If I’m not teaching in an inflexible social studies curriculum, I allow my student a lot of freedom to choose the destination.  Two popular trips during the winter months are Hawaii and Disney World.  The students have fun pulling out their summer clothes to pack in the middle of winter, along with sunglasses, bathing suits, suntan lotion, and beach towels.  Some even come to school in shorts, a feat in Ohio in the winter months.  One of my seniors, wore a grass skirt and strategically placed half coconuts over her blouse.  That picture made the school yearbook. If we travel to Hawaii, we make grass skirts from green plastic trash bags and learn to dance the Hula to Hawaiian music.  We get out our beach towels and “sunbathe” during preschool story time.  We play beach blanket bingo, during which students pretend to sunbathe on a towel until the music stops and then run to a new towel.  We cut open a fresh pineapple for snack.  We make leis to wear home. Since camcorders and video cams have become popular, we can usually watch a video of our destination and parents love making their own recordings of our trip.  We always reboard our plane and fly home just in time to meet them.

coming home

Coming Home Again

The variations are as endless as your imagination, and so are the opportunities for learning.  When I taught in the primary grades, if we were traveling to China, I had a parent bring in Chinese food for lunch and we ate with chopsticks.  Going to Mexico?  Learn the Mexican Hat Dance, eat Mexican food and break a pinata.  Take a look at your curriculum.  What do you need to teach that you could make more realistic and more fun by imaginatively traveling to that destination?  Invite in a guest speaker with appropriate costumes.  If you’re studying a particular era in history, turn your classroom into a time machine and travel backwards in time.  Bring your classroom alive.  The sky is the limit.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives
Available at Amazon.com

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

Gifts from the Classroom

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1770209_sWhat is the best holiday gift you have ever received? From my childhood I remember a much wished for and cherished bike that sat in front of the Christmas tree, the only new one I ever owned.  This was a stunning event in the household where I grew up, because we usually didn’t receive what we most wanted.  However the elves must have been extremely busy that year because they didn’t do a good job of assembling this bike and it never actually worked just right.  Oh, it looked very pretty, but sometimes when you turned the handle bars, the front wheel didn’t turn – not a reliable characteristic for a bike.  I probably jumped more miles on my on my beloved pogo stick than I ever rode on that bike.  Oh, could this gal pogo!  I bounced everywhere.  Yep, I’d have to say that my pogo stick was my all time favorite gift from childhood.

What I Admire About You

What I admire about youBut as we mature we come to realize the truth of that adage, “The best things in life aren’t  things.”  They truly aren’t.  The best thing in life is making others feel good about themselves.  We all long to feel valued and appreciated.   About two-thirds of the way through my teaching career I discovered an activity that helped accomplish this goal.  I always planned this activity for sometime during the holidays.

As my students entered the classroom they received a stack of blank index cards…one for each of their classmates and one for the teacher.  Silently I had them write the name of a classmate at the top of each card and then write one thing they admired about that student.  I encouraged them to be as specific as possible.  General statements like, “You are a great gal” are not as powerful as “I admire the way you always have something encouraging to say when someone in our class is down in the dumps.”  They were required to write one about me (the teacher) also.  Let me tell you high school teachers need their encouragement too.  There were a few cautions and guidelines I voiced ahead of time.  Absolutely no ‘put downs” would be tolerated, only positive comments were permitted.

A Confession

I admit that occasionally I had a group of students so at odds with one another before we began this activity, that I didn’t require that they write a compliment to every classmate.  I might limit it to 10 or 12 compliments written using time parameters as an excuse.  I wanted to make certain no one was ever hurt by this activity.  But when you set limits like these, you always risk the omission of someone being complimented.  I only used these limits a time or two.  Here’s the real beauty of the activity.  Each time I limited the number of compliments they had to provide, they always got half way through the activity and then THEY requested of ME that they be able to write something they admired about everyone in the class.  That is how great is the power of writing positive words about someone.

Then Comes the Magic

magic

At the end of our time limit, we circled our desks and orally read one card at a time.  One student would read aloud to one other student a single comment while all others listened.  Then the next person in the circle would read a comment about someone else.  I encouraged them to keep changing the people who were being complimented.  “Try and choose someone no one has yet read about,” was my occasional  reminder.  When it was my turn to read I always started by complimenting someone I felt was considered just a little outside the inner circle…the kids not quickly accepted by their peers.  As we listened around and around that circle twenty or thirty revolutions, you could feel the climate of our classroom change. They smiled more easily, eyes moistened, shoulders relaxed, heads nodded as everyone agreed with a compliment being shared orally, and teens relaxed their armor.  Kindness settled softly over our circle like a cashmere blanket. Friends became closer and former adversaries demonstrated tolerance.  When others validate us, we are more likely to notice and appreciate positive traits in others.  The students in my classroom became a family.  There is no greater gift for a student who will be walking into your classroom every day for an entire school year.

Just before our time together ended, I instructed them to pass their cards out to one another.  By taking the time to distribute their compliments in written form, everyone could carry the compliments away and read them again whenever they might need a morale boost. As dozens of students stood to distribute their cards to others, I anticipated it to be quite a noisy time.  It never was.  Why?  The moment they received a card from someone, their eyes were magnetically drawn to the compliments written on those cards. They hungered for that validation from their peers.

Our class was always changed from that day forward.  We became a community working together, a unit.  As a side (but not unimportant) benefit, a bully has a hard time finding a foot hold in a community where everyone has your back.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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