Tag Archives: Teach to Change Lives

A Parent Teacher Conference I’ll Never Forget

Standard

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

I Believe in You

Standard

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

How to Help Students Succeed in Life

Standard

Beyond the Textbooks

Good teachers teach the subject matter and they do it well.  They know their academic area thoroughly.  Their lesson plans are well thought out and hopefully creative.  They are experts in their field.  There are studies that prove that the best way to improve test scores is to thoroughly educate our teachers – to provide them with a deeper understanding of their subject matter.  They then can pass this academic excellence along to their students.

I thoroughly agree with this strategy.  BUT…if you want to become something beyond a good teacher I think there is so much more than academic excellence required.  Great teachers don’t just teach academics, they teach people.  The student precedes the subject matter. Great teachers don’t just teach an academic field. They must teach many things beyond the text.  They teach concepts that help students live a life full of successes that they learn to create through experiences and activities that begin in the classroom.

How?

The truth is I’ve written a whole book about this and it’s not easy to describe briefly.  Also,even as I write this I can hear many good teachers saying,

I don’t have time for anything other than the academics! 

I can’t cover all the material even now.

How can I add more?

And technically they are right.  We don’t have extra time for unimportant concepts.  But what I’m describing is important and effective teachers will realize it and integrate it into their lessons.   Great teachers will custom braid success strategies throughout all of their teaching. weaving them over and under the academics they cover, strengthening their students’ learning path into a cord with triple the strength of mere facts.

Think Differently

We have to be honest and admit that we don’t know the world our students will be facing.  Changes in our country within the past decade have resonated that message.  We must prepare our students for an economy we can’t even predict.  They will change not just jobs but careers.  We must teach them entrepreneurial skills, creativity, perseverance, problem solving, and how to set goals and adapt when the  ground under their feet begins shifting in a new direction.

Six Tips for Getting Started

  • Read orally to students no matter what their age.  We do this when they are young, but we give it up when they need it most.  By carefully selecting short oral readings you can engage their minds using words from the greatest inventors, entrepreneurs, leaders, thinkers, and doers.  You can expose them to the best advice given by the greatest minds in less than 5 minutes per day.  Carefully choose, then read a 2-3 minute selection.  Then have them orally reflect. Cap the reading and discussion with a challenge to apply it to their lives immediately.  Check back on the results.
  • Model initiative by talking about ways you are trying to improve your life.  Talk about personal goals and share your progress toward a goal.  List the steps toward your goal and check off progress as they watch.  Challenge them to do the same.  Have them identify a goal, write it down, list their steps and check off progress as a classroom challenge.  Support one another.  You must walk your talk on this one or it will have no impact.  As teachers we are FIRST role models.
  • But also share your failures with students.  I don’t mean to air dirty laundry that is inappropriate for students, but I DO mean to reveal a time in your life you have faced a failure.  This is uncomfortable for adults.  We want our students and children to think of us as a success.  They need to know we have faced failures and survived.  If they never hear that, when they face failures in their future (and they will) they will feel like losers.  They need to know we faced failures, what we learned from those failures and how we persevered.  How much did it hurt?  How did you recover?  Is there success after defeat?  What got you through it? Tell them.  This is a life skill they need.
  • When you reveal your vulnerabilities, as a side benefit, they will be more apt to approach you when they have an issue they need to discuss with someone.  When this happens, don’t over react.  No matter how large or shocking their problem, initially you must under react.  If you over react, they won’t approach you again.  They may never again approach anyone with a situation they need to discuss.  This is a time for problem solving with them.
  • Verbalize a student’s strengths at every opportunity.  Always look for talents and verbalize them whenever you notice them. Young people often undervalue their skills.  If they are good at something, they may think everyone does that well.  It’s no big deal in their mind.  They often FIRST see their future careers and successes through the eyes of someone else whose opinions they value.  My grandson had to write a sample college essay in high school listing and describing his strengths.  Once he described his athletic skills he stopped.  More slowly he knew he had a sense of humor and admitted some leadership skills.  But what he didn’t know was his greatest strength.  He has a wonderful talent for making other people feel valued.  When I told him this he said, “What do you mean?”  I give him a dozen examples.  It was a revelation for him.  Why had I not pointed that out to  him yet?  Shame on me.  He didn’t even know he had this unique and valuable skill. He will never forget this conversation.  I’m sure of it.
  • Choose activities and readings that make students aware of their self talk.  The truth is we say more hurtful words to ourselves than any bully has ever directed at us.  But usually students are unaware that they do this to themselves until you make them aware of it.  I have my students carry a small notebook and record the internal messages they give themselves for a week.  I share mine too!  I think it is important to participate in the activities you assign your students. We have to take it further.  We have to turn it around and replace it with positive self talk.  I attended a small high school with a graduating class of only 81 students.  Mike was a student in that class.  He was not the valedictorian nor the salutatorian in a class of only 81.  And yet he has made a huge success of his life (more about that in my book).  Do you know what his self talk is?  He was embarrassed to admit this and he says he NEVER says it out loud, but he continually says to himself internally, “Somebody has to be first.  Why not me?”

I’m passionate about this topic and hate to stop here. 

But I know if this post gets any longer, no one will want to read it at all.  My book describes 100+ such strategies. I think the greatest gifts we give our students are the ones that go beyond the text books. I’m a career teacher and I’m sure of it.  I belive great teachers TEACH…To Change Lives.

TEACG

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

TEACH…To Change Lives

Standard

Life Changers

TEACH...To Change LivesThey sneak up on you.  Life changers come from out of nowhere.  You wake up in the morning expecting a typical day, but you meet someone new, or something unexpected happens on that day, and it changes the course of your life.  Sometimes you figure it out on the very day it happens.  You say to yourself

Wow.  I’m going to remember this day forever.

But some life changers only reveal themselves over a long period of time.  It may take decades before you know the full impact they have on you.  Life changers can feel wonderful or horrible.  The things they have in common are that they are out of our control and they change us profoundly.  They are different from significant days that you plan like a wedding or a reunion. They appear suddenly and alter our lives in unexpected ways.

One of the things I love about teaching is that we get to experience so many life changers.  Sometimes it’s a person, often a student, other times it’s an event or simply a tiny moment. Sometimes we teachers become the life changers and we may even be unaware of it. But in this wonderful profession life changers are possible every single day.

My life changerOne of My Life Changers

This is my youngest daughter, Kelsey Easley. Her life was a life changer for me. This story isn’t mostly about Kelsey but it begins with her.  When Kelsey was born I had already been a teacher for fifteen years. I believe I was a good teacher, creative and hard-working.  But watching my daughter’s life and her experiences changed my teaching profoundly.

Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer at age five. She battled cancer off and on for eleven years until the disease took her life at age sixteen.  When Kelsey had to receive radiation to her brain at age five, it saved her life but it also changed her life.  Radiation kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells.  As a result Kelsey’s intelligence plummeted.  She went from being the top reader in her kindergarten class, to the lowest reader by the end of the first grade with the same peers.  Now she didn’t just have a deadly disease to battle, she also was forced to enter the population we politely label special needs.

That experience put me (Kelsey’s mom) on the other side of the IEP conference table…the side of the table where no parent ever chooses to be. I learned a lot of lessons on the parent side of the table, most of them painful.  I saw teachers and specialists in a whole new and often unflattering way.  Too often I saw condescension or inflexibility. It changed me.

I also learned how naturally accepting and inclusive young children are.  They’ll love you bald.  It makes no difference.  But acceptance changes at about junior high age.  What Kelsey needed the most in junior high and high school were friends and there were very few. I watched her hurt and no one deserved it less.

How This Changed Me

life changers

It would be impossible to describe all the ways parenting Kelsey changed me; but for right now I’ll share one story.  When I began teaching a Teacher Academy program at the high school level, I decided to begin a Friendship Club between my class full of academically talented future teachers and the students with special needs in our high school.  Kelsey had taught me that friends were what the special population needed most.  Instinct and my own experiences taught me that my future teachers would learn even more. My students knew all about Kelsey.  She had passed away by then but I shared many stories about her.

We planned monthly activities pairing our aspiring teachers and their new friends from the special education department.  The outcomes were wonderful.  True friendships emerged.  Simply a new friend to greet in the high school hallways was an improvement for the special population.  Many of our new friends wandered into our classroom routinely before school and during breaks.  My future teachers learned to plan appropriate activities that encouraged conversations and natural friendships. They also learned patience, tolerance, how to modify activities to feature all talents, a new respect for challenges our less fortunate friends encountered and a gratitude for our own gifts.

You’d think a win/win idea like this one would be greeted with positive reactions from all, but it had its challenges.  Most of the special population didn’t drive and were quite dependent on school transportation specially equipped for their needs.  This meant our functions had to happen within school hours.  Some teachers were opposed to having students miss class, though we tried mightily to schedule these events during lunch hours.  Locations were hard to schedule too.  But the challenges were worth the effort.  Relationships formed and barriers were removed.

Will You Help?

One day an unexpected email (a life changer) challenged all of us to examine just how sincere our intentions were. The email came from Steven’s mom.  Steven was one of our new friends who was almost completely nonverbal.  Steven’s mom wanted her son to have the opportunity to attend the prom. Would any of my students be willing to have Steven be part of their prom night?  I read the question from the email aloud to my future teachers and waited.  It was very quiet.  No teens made eye contact with me. Here was Kelsey’s mom standing in front of them asking an uncomfortable question.  PROM?  A pretty sacred night for a teen.

After a somewhat lengthy pause Chelsea finally spoke up.

I’ll take Steven to the prom. I didn’t have anyone special I wanted to go with, and I couldn’t rationalize spending the money, but this gives me a good reason to go.   

Her friends complimented her and told her they’d support her in her decision.

The Friendship Date

Prom night was a little more challenging than Chelsea had expected.  Steven didn’t like the noise level in the room where the dancing was taking place.  He mostly enjoyed standing at the front doors in the lobby watching the limos come and go as teens arrived.  Chelsea, on that night, didn’t realize that she was right in the middle of a life changer.  But she was.

Steven’s mom called Chelsea the next day and told Chelsea how much Steven had seemed to enjoy the evening.  A friendship grew as Chelsea began to make sporadic visits to Steven’s house to hang out.  She followed his lead into things that he enjoyed, basketball, wood working and equipment that digs.  He learned to make an attempt at saying her name.  He pronounced Chelsea’s name “Chs.”

Before long Chelsea went off to college to fulfill her dream of becoming a math teacher. But, as a true friend does, she took the time to visit Steven whenever she came home for breaks.  When Chelsea was a junior in college she walked back into my high school Teacher Academy classroom to share some news with me.  She grinned a little as she said these life changing words.

Guess what Mrs. E?  I’ve changed my college major.  I’ve decided to become a special educator.  

I, of course, was pleased but not even the tiniest bit surprised.   Today Chelsea is in her second year of serving in the classroom as an intervention specialist in a school not far from here.  It’s close enough that she can still be a friend to Steven; and that is exactly as it should be.  Steven and Chelsea were life changers for each other.  It was a particular joy for this teacher to watch this transformation take place.

I can feel Kelsey grinning down on all three of us.

Chelsea and Steven, Still Friends Today

still friends

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com