Can I Write Hell On This Paper?

Teaching, in my eyes, is about brand new experiences every day. It’s about sparking a fire in the life of a child. It’s about creating an environment that promotes learning and making children feel loved. It’s even about the little moments where the innocence of youth makes you stop to think about life in a brand new way.

Moments like these exist often when challenging twenty-two children on a daily basis to see the world differently. On one particular day, my students were participating in an activity to review word families. Little did I know that this assignment would lead to an ongoing project that turned into the thoughts that you will read about within this blog.

It was a day like most others. My students were working together in cooperative groups and they were very excited about what we were doing that afternoon. Even though it was a typical school day, it lead to a question that still makes me laugh to this day.

We had been working on brand new word families and my students were ready to show everything that they knew. The goal of this activity was to allow the cooperative groups to work together to list as many words as they could think of that belonged to the word family on their poster. Then, the groups rotated and they would add to another groups poster.crayons

As my students walked around the room adding new words to word family posters, one little boy stopped to ask what seemed at the time to be an urgent question. He had come to a crossroad in this project. He was now at the word family poster for -ell and it lead to a question that just begged to be answered. “Mr. Vaughn,” he said with eyes wide and innocent, “Can I write hell on this paper?”

HHomeLogois sincerity when asking this question made this a moment that I will never forget. The question was simple enough, right? I could not help but wonder what life would be like if we all just stopped to ask the questions that no one else was comfortable asking. I mean, how many other kids had stopped at that table, had the same thought, and moved along without even attempting to find the answer to the burning question. How would things be different if we had the gumption of this kid and saw the world through the lens that he sees it through every day?

After speaking to the child about his new word choice and deciding that the word was not the optimal choice for the classroom poster, the student went about his day as if the situation had never happened. But it had happened and I was thankful. The experience sparked an idea to journal the funny things that my students say and relate them to real world teaching and experiences that hopefully everyone reading can enjoy.

Whether you are a teacher, a parent or just a student of life, I hope that you can take some time within these posts to reflect on the children in your life that challenge us to see the world in a brand new way, every single day. My goal for these stories is to give you a new opportunity to laugh, cry or just take a deep breath and remember that life IS good! And on the days that life isn’t so good, I want to give you the opportunity to just stop, reflect and ask yourself… “Can I write hell on this paper?”

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The Place Where Burnout Meets Your Calling

I’m midway through Spring Break and finally feeling like I can start to form a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to express for quite some time now. The purpose of this blog has always been to promote positivity among educators, families and students. Today that will not change. Although I’ve contemplated many ways that I could express what I’ve been feeling over this past year, I believe that the most beneficial expression of my ideas would be that of honesty and sincerity. Thanks for taking your time to read my thoughts. (Please be aware that when I speak of the “educational system”, I’m speaking of the national system. Not my current workplace, which I love dearly.)

Did you know that in SC, at least 30% of educators leave the teaching field within the first five years of employment? The number continues to rise each year.

I’m now in my fifth year of teaching and I have a few comments to make about our current state of education and the big picture that I think we are missing. I’m very sorry to say that I have reached my “Five Year Burn-out”. I NEVER thought that I would say those words. Steven Furtick describes burnout as the time when “the demands placed upon you exceed the resources available to you.”

When I started teaching, I saw it as the best thing in the world. I couldn’t wait to lead generation after generation by helping them build knowledge and express their dreams in my classroom. It was my greatest passion and all that I ever talked about. And then I continued my time in the educational system and I found that all aspects of the educational field were not exactly the way that they had been presented to me.

There were a lot of broken parts. Pieces that were missing. Holes that had been there before I came and holes that were made bigger after my arrival. Children were treated as numbers. Data. Teachers were treated as replaceable. Robots. All along, I pressed through and tried to find the positive in every aspect of the job. I loved my kids! That was all that it took. No matter how crazy things were outside of the classroom, I knew that the moment I stepped foot into my classroom, I was building family. I was building community. We were together with one purpose!

Over time, I have watched exceptional educators leave the field. I’m not talking about retirement. I’m talking about “get out while I can” exits. Those who build dreams and foster creative thinking, were leaving because of the high-stress of the broken system. They were unable to afford their family or unable to teach without feeling like their every move was monitored and scrutinized. The heartbreaking reality was that our kids were the ones losing.

Over the five years that I’ve taught, there has been one thing that has kept me going — the children. They make every stressful piece worth it. They love more than most adults could ever love. They believe in people more than most adults will ever believe in anything. I’m not ashamed to say that they inspire me… and they are six years old.

Needless to say, when I return to work in a few days, I will gladly walk into my classroom and completely pour my everything into my students. I will teach. I will love. I will show compassion. Then, they will be administered a computerized assessment that will make a “determination” about their ability level in math and reading. Basically, this computer program will label my students abilities over the past year based on 52 multiple choice questions. And along with that, I will receive a “number” for my effectiveness in the classroom based on these computerized assessments.

Keep in mind, these assessments do not monitor the home life of my students. These assessments do not monitor the creativity of my students. It will not know that one of my little guys cannot help but dance when music plays. It will not know that one of my little girls cannot wait to become a Veterinarian because she cares for even the smallest creatures every day at recess. This test will not measure the love of reading that each student has gained since the beginning of the year. This assessment will not understand that one of my little girls is a gifted artist. It will not understand any of these aspects of my students, yet they will be labeled, nonetheless.

As I’ve had time to reflect these past few days, I’m reminded of the same call that I answered when I became a teacher. I took my decision to teach very seriously. I saw it as my mission field. I knew that this was the career where God placed me for a very specific reason. Over these five years, I have laughed until my side hurts. I have cried until there were no more tears. I have felt deep sadness when my students endured difficult circumstances. I have felt overwhelming joy when my students became passionate learners. I have been honored with the recognition of Teacher of the Year, three years into my career.  And above all, I have prayed.

I have prayed for their families. I have prayed for their circumstances. I have prayed for their safety. I have prayed for their future. This has been my mission field. This has been the place where God has called me and it will remain for as long as He wants me here. Have I had moments of doubt and discouragement along the way? Absolutely. Do I still wish some things could change? You bet! But at this moment, I will not abandon my students. I will not walk away from them because the system is struggling. I will stand up and walk with them, hand-in-hand. I cannot fix the system. I cannot change the world. But I can change their world! Isn’t that what we have been called to do? Change the world, if even for one.

When the world tries to throw labels on my students, I will continue to speak affirmation into their lives. You are a gifted artist. You are a wonderful story teller. You have a beautiful heart. You are going to change the world!

Inside of my classroom, my students are excited to learn. Inside of those four walls, creativity is encouraged. Inside our community, we love each other and care for each other. My hope is that these are the aspects of education that they will remember. I want them to remember the first time they read a book that used to feel impossible. I want them to remember our goofy songs that we wrote together to learn about plants. I want them to remember how if someone was sad, we took time as a class to listen and express how we care for them.

Do I see myself in the classroom forever? Not necessarily. God places you in certain areas for certain seasons of your life. One day, I dream of running a non-profit with my beautiful wife that benefits children in need. Without the experience that I’ve had, I would not bring the same skill set to the table for that non-profit we dream of.

Right now, I will continue to teach! I cannot become weighed down with the political aspect of education. I will remember the call on my life that was placed at a very young age. I have determined that my job isn’t to fix this system. My job is to shield my amazing students from knowing that the system is broken in the first place. They will be my priority. I will give them my best because they deserve no less! I will continue to follow the calling placed on my life. I hope in some way this will encourage you to do the same!

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End of Year Reflection

As the school year draws to an end, I find myself reflecting on the past 171 school days. I’m reminded of the many ways my students have shaped my year.  I can’t help but smile when I think of all the humorous comments they have made and the conversations we have held together.

It always amazes me how much they grow physically, academically and socially during the course of one school year. Watching them become successful in these areas brings the highest sense of satisfaction as an educator. While I am so thankful that they have grown in these areas, I believe that the area of growth that I enjoy witnessing the most is that they have become a family.

From Day 1, I always explain to my students that they are going to spend so much time together throughout the year that they are practically brothers and sisters. I explain that they should show respect to each person in the room and they should find ways to show that they care for each other every day.

Imagine BoardIt warms my heart to see them attend to a friend that is upset or to watch them express appreciation towards one another. I will never forget this group of children that I have been blessed with the opportunity to invest in throughout this school year. They are a special group of kids and their teacher loved them for who they were when they walked in the door and will love them for who they have become as they transition from my classroom.

I wrote a poem for all of my students and have given it to them since I began teaching in 2011. Every child receives this poem before they leave my classroom. This is the best way for me to express my feelings as I reflect on my year with my students.

I started teaching because I wanted to help change lives. The more I teach, the more I find that they too are changing my life. My students challenge me to grow in so many areas. I want to be the best person I can be in their eyes because in my eyes they deserve nothing less.

Written for My Students Past and Present:

 

My life is different because I’ve known you

And it’s hard to see you go.

You have made my year so special

In more ways than you’ll ever know.

 

You’re an amazing kid and that’s a fact.

I’ve watched you learn and play.

This is how I’ll always see you

And in my memory you’ll stay.

 

Watching you grow has been the best!

I’m excited to see where you go.

A World-Changer is who you are.

Remember Mr. V told you so.

 

I’ll always be here when you need me.

I’ll always root for you.

Just know that you are loved

And I believe in you!

 

I’m blessed to call you my student.

Thanks for sharing this time with me.

Go out and make a difference.

Be the best YOU that you can be!

 

Until our paths meet again,

Remember it’s not “Goodbye!”

Instead “I’ll see you soon!”

Do “Good”, be great and fly!

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Well Aren’t You Honest?

I appreciate honesty. As a matter of fact, honesty is one of the biggest requirements for my classroom community. My students know that I expect the truth from them and they should expect the truth from me. It’s a two-way street.

I guess they know that I like honesty a little too much. That might be the reason for the following exchange I had with a student in my fourth year of teaching.

Student: Can I be a teacher when I grow up?

Me: Of course! You just need to go to college after you graduate high school.

Student: Can I teach here or will I have to find a new school?

Me: I’m sure there will be a spot for you when you graduate.

Student: Well, when you pass away, I’m going to take over your classroom.

Me: Really?

Student: Yeah, but I’m taking all the Mickey stuff down!

Just like that, she had already plotted to take over my classroom when I died and to dig a little deeper… Mickey Mouse had to go!

I laugh whenever I think of this exchange between the two of us. She was just being “honest” about her future plans. The next thing we needed to work on was tactfulness but that could be accomplished another day, right?

Weeks later, I asked the student again of her plans when she became a teacher. She stuck with her original plan. I wanted a little more information so I said, “How many years do you think it will be before I’m not a teacher anymore and you are a teacher?”

Her reply was, “Ten hundred years…. (she hesitated) or 11 years.”

There I had it, my timeline ranged from 11 years to “ten hundred” years. I felt a little better with these possibilities.

After our second exchange, I said, “Thank you for your honesty.”

She readied herself for a reply.

I was all ears. How was she going to be brutally honest this time? What truth bomb was she about to drop?

Student: “You have brown eyes that are beautiful just like mine!”

Me: “Thank you?” (Still preparing for the worst)

Student: “Oh, I want to say something else! You have hair like Justin Bieber. (insert adorable giggling) That’s all I wanted to say.”

There it was. Within a few minutes, I was told that I only had 11 more years to teach and I was compared to Justin Bieber. I guess it could have been worse, right?

After all is said and done, these are the conversations that last a lifetime. I will never forget talking to this little girl during recess and having a chance to hear what was on her mind. Maybe we could all use a little help in this department. You know the saying, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” She had that down.

Just make sure you don’t give someone only 11 years to live and compare them to an obnoxious pop star and you are on your way to open communication, just like that. Lesson learned.

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When It Clicks

“Where do wolf live?”

One of my favorite recess conversations a few years ago was with one of my students that spoke English as a second language. This child had a smile that would melt your heart and a personality to match. I had enjoyed watching him learn and grow. It was not the easiest process for him. Reading and writing, in particular, had been a struggle for him throughout the year. I worked tirelessly to help him make progress in these areas.

This child worked HARD to learn new material. He always put a lot of effort into his work and practiced at home every night. His parents were devoted to helping him each day at home. With all of this extra help, he still struggled with reading and writing.

I’m sure that as an educator, you’ve had those moments where you just feel like it’s not sinking in. No matter how hard you teach or how hard you plan, there are some students that just do not fully grasp the new information. I was having one of those weeks where I was just feeling a little down about some of my struggling students and how I could help them.

I was lying in bed at night trying to figure out exactly what I could do to make it click for each child. We had been working on punctuation throughout the year and some of my students were excelling in their writing. However, I still had those students that struggled even when you all but said the word for them when editing. “This is the end of a sentence you need a ______. (Blank stare) You need a per___. (Nothing) You need a period. Remember? Your stop sign for the sentence.”

This little boy was one of those students. He was having difficulty distinguishing between periods, question marks and exclamation marks. I worked with him whenever I could to fill in these gaps with the skills that he needed. The conversation that came next, really put my mind at ease after spending some time worrying about what I could do next.

Student: Mr. Vaughn, my mom said that when you die you go into the stars.

Me: That’s interesting. Is that what you believe too?

Student:

(Pausing for a moments of reflection)

No. I believe that we turn into ghosts. Where do wolf live?

Me: Buddy, those two things don’t really relate to each other. Do they?

Student:

(Looking at me with a smile on his face and trying his hardest to justify what was going on in his mind.)

“I said, we turn into ghosts, PERIOD.”

(Holding his hand up to signal stopping.)

“Where do wolf live QUESTION MARK?”

I laughed so hard after hearing his explanation. Sure, the two topics were completely unrelated but that wasn’t the gem of this whole conversation. This little boy had FINALLY understood the difference between the punctuation marks and their functions.

He had remembered our many conversations about how a period tells you to stop after a sentence. In his mind, his period was there and that’s all that was needed to continue with the rest of his conversation. It clicked!

He had taken what he was learning and applied to his daily speech. I was entertained. He was smiling. I was proud! Next we would work on making sure he made words plural when needed. Wolves would be our next challenge! But that is not what this story is about…

In this post, I just want to encourage you to never give up on your students. There will be days when you feel like it’s just not sinking in. There will be days when you don’t know if they will ever “get it.” Do not spend so much time stressing. They will get it. After all, they have you to keep drilling it and practicing it until they think they cannot possibly hear it one more time! But in the end, the moment will come when it clicks. It’s an exciting moment. It’s a moment when you realize as an educator that your hard work is paying off and when your daily planning and preparation are culminating into a year of newly learned knowledge. You can see it on their faces when it happens.

At the beginning of each year, I have my students write their names on a sheet of paper and I have them complete a self-portrait. At the end of the year, the students have forgotten that this ever happened. Again, I ask them to write their names on a piece of paper and complete a self-portrait. When they are finished, I take out the artwork from the beginning of the year and I place them side by side. Their reactions are priceless! I explain to them how they have grown throughout the year. I explain that they now know way more than they did when they stepped into their first grade classroom that year. At that time, they always love to share some of the things that they have learned and are now able to do. It’s fulfilling to hear their stories and know that I’ve helped them develop into more knowledgable students that are excited about learning.

“Look how much I can write now, Mr. Vaughn!”

“I’m a better artist now, right?”

“My handwriting has changed a lot!”

Their faces glow as they realize how much they have changed!

This is a joyous time and it should be treasured. You are in this profession for a reason! Don’t be discouraged when things are not going according to plan. There is a moment, when it clicks! Aren’t those moments worth every single day of teaching your heart out?

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The Love of Learning

“School is my favorite thing in my whole life!”

These are words that we all want to hear as educators. We want to know that the hard work and effort that we are putting into our career is paying off. We want to know that our children are learning the material and enjoying school while they are learning.

I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in 2nd grade. I had some truly remarkable educators throughout the time that I was a student. While I cannot say that every teacher I had made the career choice for the right reasons, I did experience what it was like to be a student in the classroom of  several teachers that truly cared about my education and leaving a lasting impression.

The educators that I remember making the biggest difference in my life were people that were not afraid of having fun. They did not hesitate to make learning exciting. They were passionate about what they taught. I could tell that when they taught, they had considered how they could make the material relevant and purposeful. From elementary school all the way through college, I met teachers that still challenge me to this day as I teach a group of children everything they need to know before leaving 1st grade.

I still remember the way my fourth grade teacher would teach us a new song after we had mastered the objectives of the week. I’m sure that my family remembers too. I used to come home every day singing “Froggy went a courtin‘ and he did ride. Uh huh. Uh huh.”  I can imagine the repetition would get old really fast if you had to hear your child singing this all night long. Just ask my parents. The cool thing is that what my teacher did through that process was teach me how to enjoy education. She was not about drilling facts and shoving information. She taught us at a rate that we could process effectively and rewarded us through song as we mastered the material.

Another instance of making school exciting would be my high school history, government and economics teacher. Let’s face it. It’s hard to make history exciting. Unless you truly love history, it’s not the easiest subject to “learn.” However, my history teacher was definitely more passionate about what he was teaching than most teachers I have ever come into contact with in my life. He truly LOVED teaching his students. 

He would give us projects that made learning meaningful. For example, I remember making a video for his economics class. We were asked to make a commercial for a product. My group chose to make a commercial for a “Reality Mote.” It was a remote that could pause time, fast forward, rewind and change the volume of life. We worked collaboratively. We shared with the class. We all wanted to do the project. Strange, huh? Twenty plus students WANTED to do a project outside of school to share with our peers.  Those are the kinds of projects that you remember.

This video project from when I was in high school can be seen HERE.

I think back to elementary school when we were studying Medieval Times. I will never forget the teacher giving us the opportunity to “build” a castle. We spent a lot of time on this project and it’s one of my fondest memories of elementary school. We crafted furniture, built walls, and carefully painted cardboard to construct a miniature-scale castle, complete with moat and drawbridge. What do I remember from that project? I remember that I was EXCITED about learning the material. I remember that instead of cramming facts, the teacher allowed us to construct and build an understanding through experience.

I try to remember all of these projects when I teach my children. Each weekend when I’m planning lessons for the week, I try to think of projects that will make my kids excited about learning! It’s not always the easiest process. There have been times when I sat back and decided, “That went really well!” There have also been times that I’ve sat back and thought, “That was a disaster!”

In my opinion, we need both of those times to remind us how important this process is when we are planning. Not everything is going to go the way that we planned. Although we wish that it would, it’s just not practical. There are going to be things that we mess up but there are also going to be things that we hit right on the mark. All of these times are important to improve our effectiveness in the classroom.

The mistakes help us figure out how to do it better the next time. As we continue teaching, we figure out what works and what does not work. We decide how we can change it to make it better.

Then there are the times that we get it right. You know how those times feel. I’m talking about the times that you see the expressions on their faces change and you know that a lightbulb has turned on. The times when they look at you and say, “I get it!” It’s in these moments that we know we are being effective.

I have found that the times I try to make learning fun are the times that the learning really soars. I remember making a video in college for an assignment. The assignment was to create a “rap” to help teach any area of  Language Arts that we chose. The result was The Alliteration Rap. Shortly after, I had some students that would be learning about alliteration. I wanted to make sure that when they were presented with the new information they would WANT to know more about it. I decided that this video was fun, upbeat and included movement and music. It was perfect for the students that I was teaching. My students that year, aced their assessment on alliteration. They could relate and that made all the difference.

If we truly want to see learning take place, we have to decide to make it RELEVANT. We face a ton of competition today outside of the classroom. Children are bombarded with entertainment everywhere they turn. The truth is that if we teach with passion and present information in exciting ways, our children will truly love what they are learning. Sure it takes more time. Sure it’s hard work. I assure you that every bit of the hard work is worth it, when a student looks at you with a smile on their face and truly understands the material that you have so purposefully wanted to share with them.

I challenge you to inspire your students to love learning by teaching in ways that they can truly relate to and enjoy. You won’t regret it. Challenge yourself to shy away from shoving facts and instead, maybe even sing a little tune. Your children won’t forget it and you will accomplish something truly great. You will teach your children that learning can be, dare I say it, fun!

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Full of Life Experience

“The devil made bad words!”

The memory is clear in my mind as I think about the little girl explaining to her classmates what she had been taught about inappropriate language. “You’re not supposed to say those words. The devil made bad words!”

That year, this seemed to be an ongoing topic of conversation in the classroom as many of my children had been bringing “life experience” into our community. They were repeating information that had been learned from their big brother, big sister, mom and dad. You name it. If they heard it, they attempted to say it.

No example sticks out further in my mind than that of one of my students that shall remain anonymous. I remember as I was teaching math, turning around and seeing a table full of students chuckling about something that this student had said. He was laughing hysterically and I just knew that it couldn’t be good.

This child had quite the reputation for choosing the wrong things to do and say in the classroom. If ever any student brought life experience into the room, it was this little boy. Let’s just say that he had no filter, something that I learned quickly at the beginning of the year.

I remember walking up to him after seeing a table full of children chuckling and asking him what had just happened. “Nothing,” he replied, “I didn’t say anything.” Red flag!

I asked him to walk over to the carpet so that we could talk together. He followed me reluctantly to the carpet. As he approached me, the conversation went a little something like this:

Me: “What did you say in front of your friends?”

Student: “I didn’t say anything.” *tears start to fall*

I knew without a doubt that something had been said.

Me: “If you could say it in front of your friends, you can say it in my ear.”

Ever had one of those moments looking back where you know that you should have just let something go but you couldn’t bring yourself to do it? Well, this quickly turned into one of those moments.

Student: “I, I, I said…”

At this point time was going a little slower for me. I was remembering back to my student teaching days when students would say, “He said the f word.” After questioning, I would find out that the forbidden word was fart. So in my mind, all I could think was that this situation would be the same. After all, my little innocent first grader would NEVER say something so inappropriate in my presence. Right? …. Wrong.

As I waited, what came next caught me completely off-guard.

He leaned over to my ear and in his sweet little, innocent, high-pitched voice said a word that would make a sailor’s mother blush.

My immediate reaction was, “What did you just say?”

I quickly fixed the error. “No… Wait…Stop…No more!” They were the only words that I could scramble to get out of my mouth to protect everyone involved from experiencing this train wreck again.

After composing myself, I asked him where he had heard this word. “From ____, he replied.” He was another student in my classroom. I quickly asked the student to come to the carpet.

Me: “Did you just tell ______ to say an inappropriate word?”

Student #2: “I didn’t tell him to say that word, I just said *****.”

Right before me, I had just witnessed two of my sweet little first grade students drop very adult words effortlessly, like they were reciting from a highly inappropriate retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

I explained to the students, “I don’t use those words and I’m not going to accept you using those words either.”

The students looked at me with saddened expressions and quietly said, “Yes sir.”

The day had to end in sending the children to the administration. I thought it would be helpful if they heard the same message from a principal.

After it was all over, the whole experience got me thinking about the background knowledge that all of our students have when entering our classrooms. They come into our rooms having endured a wide range of life experiences. It is up to us to weed through the gardens of their lives and find the good and the bad.

These kids will not always come to us as a freshly watered garden. Often times, we will get the un-turned soil full of thistles and weeds. The good news is that this will present us with the best of opportunities to grow as a person and strengthen our craft. 

gardening

We have the opportunity throughout the year to help our children remove the weeds and thorns from their lives. The unwelcome life experiences that they have endured can be exchanged for something better!

Not only can we help them remove these areas in their lives, we can teach them how to do it themselves. This is critical if we ever want our students to be able to live a passion-filled and exciting life on their own.

This process cannot be completed overnight. It is something that takes time and effort. Every bit of the time and effort involved is worth it when you get to see the end result. So what is the end result?

The unturned soil that contained the thistles and weeds, after time and work, can turn into the most beautiful landscape full of rich colors and aromas that you have ever seen.

All that is needed to make this change is a gardener that can see the potential in the bare landscape. Will you be that gardener for your students today?

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Relationship

“When I’m a grown-up, can we be friends?”

Spoken like a true six-year-old. Comical in a sense but at the same time very telling. Have you ever stopped to see what it is that our kids are trying to figure out when they ask these questions? The funny thing is that they are speaking loud and clear. “I want a relationship.”

It is an innate feeling to want to be accepted. We all seek out people that accept us for who we are and we look for people that like the same things as us. It’s how we work. It’s how we function on a regular basis. We find people that make us feel important and we search for people to connect with. We all do it!

In the same way, our students are looking to us for a relationship. They want to know that we are not only HEARING them but we are LISTENING to them. This is the same for all ages. Whether you teach 1st grade, high school or anything in-between, all students in a way are seeking out a relationship with someone that can encourage them and pour into them.

Granted, it is much easier to pour into kids that are “easy” to love. However, I’m sure that you have noticed that the children that are the most difficult to love are the ones that need you the most. Those are the kids that are crying out for attention and may give you the hardest time. It may be the student that gets angry easily.  It may be the student that avoids peer interaction at all costs. It may be the student that quietly sticks to himself at recess. Whatever the extreme, there are children in your classroom that are crying out for a relationship with you. They are looking to you to make the connection. It takes effort. It takes time. Most of all, it takes a passion inside of you that says, “I’m going to help change this child’s life!”

Morning Meeting

My class often starts the day by having a morning meeting. We all sit in a circle and I make sure that all of the students know the basic rules before beginning.

  1. Only share when it is your turn.cover-clip-art
  2. Look each other in the eye when someone is speaking.
  3. Appreciate what each person has to say.

After reviewing the rules, we all take turns sharing something that is very important to us. It may be what is going to happen over the weekend. It may be what we are excited about on that day. It’s an opportunity to share with the whole class what we love or dislike.

Through this process, I am able to learn more about each child. After a few of these morning meetings, you really start to understand what makes each of these kids unique. While teaching, you remember the child that plays football over the weekends. You remember which child loves animals and has a pet snake at home. You remember all of the fun facts that they tell you. You figure out which kids have that hilarious laugh. You figure out what makes them smile and what makes them concerned.

As awesome as it is to remember these cool facts about each child, I think that the part of morning meeting I love the most is that it allows me to find the kids that need a little extra in their relationship with the teacher. It shows you which kids are insecure. It shows which kids do not have a lot to smile about. It shows which kids do not have the best home-life. These things are all critical when developing a relationship with your students. You need to know where they are coming from and what it is that they are seeking.

I would not trade that 5-10 minutes in the morning for anything. It’s the time where my students become a family. It is when they encourage each other. A community is built through the conscious decision to take a moment each morning to show each person in our classroom that we WANT to know what is going on in their life.

When reflecting on my student’s question, “When I’m a grown-up, can we be friends?”, I know that every day I spend with these kids, I’m beginning a life-long relationship with them. I’m letting them know that no matter where they go in life or what they end up doing, I’ll always be here rooting for them and believing in them!

So, I would like to challenge you today to really take some time to think about the students that sit in front of you every day. Some of them may sit with a smile, some of them may sit with a frown but all of them sit wanting to know more about you and if you will still care about them tomorrow. Think it over. You may be the only person in their life that they can count on day in and day out. You may be the first person in their life that has ever stayed. They are counting on you to be there. Even if they do not ask. They want to know.

“When I’m a grown-up, can we be friends?”

Remember that what they are really asking is, “Are you someone that will always invest in me and can I count on you to build a relationship with me?” So I ask you, in what way will you choose to build a relationship with your kids today?

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The Power of Positive Thinking

Each day before heading into the classroom, I have to stop to ask myself, “What do I want my kids to get out of this day?” It seems simple enough. After all, I like to assume that all educators take time to reflect before entering this arena, called teaching. That’s why we are here, right? We are here for the kids. To change lives.

I learned throughout my own education that the true difference between a “teller” of knowledge and a teacher is that a true teacher builds a relationship. They do not just give the information and expect regurgitation.

They get to know their students. They discover their likes and dislikes. They WANT to know what they are interested in. They seek opportunities to understand what a student may be going through. They build their students up. They listen. They speak. They care.

Now, before we get started, I’m sure that some of you may be thinking, “Positive thinking can only get you so far.” In certain aspects, this is true. It CAN only get you so far. But your delivery and belief is what will make all of the difference. We have to remember that a lot of our students are coming from backgrounds where they have not always been told how great they are. They have not been told that they are special and will grow up to make a difference in this world. They have not been encouraged to believe in their dreams and reach for the biggest goal they can imagine.

Many students, instead, come from homes where mom and dad are rarely around. Many students do not know where they will be sleeping at night. There are those that wonder if they will eat at night when they get home. When these kids are coming from these situations and these circumstances, it’s more important than ever that we challenge ourselves to fill in the gap for all of the positive lessons that they have not been afforded the opportunity to experience. Many students just wish for one second they can find something slightly resembling the normal.

While this may make you feel somewhat disheartened or overwhelmed, there is good news! You have an opportunity daily to step into the classroom and speak truth into these kids. You have a platform where you can have the attention of many different children and just take the time to say, “You are unique! You are special! No one else in this world can be YOU! I’m glad that we get an entire year to discover your gifts and passions.”

stars
Every now and then, I like to start our day in the classroom by taking out the classic foil star stickers that we have all come to love. As each child comes into my classroom, I bend down, place a star on their shirt and I tell them, “I’m giving you this star because I know that today, more than ever before,  you are going to learn, you are going to show your best behavior and you are going to make a difference!” The star becomes a symbol for the student and myself that today is going to be a great day!

I see it as a way to show that I’ve taken time to encourage my kids that day. It’s funny how a few words and a foil star can make a child start to believe in themselves. It’s the power of positive thinking. It’s showing your children that no matter what baggage they came in with, or what circumstance they are going to go home to when they leave you, at that moment when you place the star on their shirt, someone cares and someone believes that they are special and worth the time you are giving to be with them!

I like to believe that my students from the past will always remember the times that they came into my classroom and the attention was completely focused on them. I hope that they can remember how I greeted them at the door with a smile on my face and showed that I was there to make a difference for THEM. It’s not about me. It’s about my students. It’s about the chance to impact them and in return have them impact everyone they ever come into contact with.

Think I’m a dreamer? If so, you are right. I dream of a world where educators are passionate about stepping into the classroom. I dream about a world where students love coming to school because they feel valued! Sure I dream… and I hope that after reading my blog, you will begin to DREAM too!

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