What is Your Purpose?

PURPOSE
Noun: the reason for which something exists 

What is your purpose? What is preventing you from discovering your purpose?

 

Leadercast Women asked this very question to the hundreds in attendance. That is a pretty lofty question to impose on someone, isn’t it? I honestly can’t articulate my purpose on this Earth in a neatly written phrase…YET. I know that we are here for many reasons beyond our recognition and understanding. Purpose for ourselves, and purpose for others. 
                          
So, that was the theme of the day, Powered By Purpose.
What are you even here for?
How have you gotten to the place where you are now?
Can you see a clear path, with direction for your future? 
                                  
As educators, we could say that our purpose is quite clear. Our purpose is to serve children, nurture their academic and character growth, and help them find THEIR purpose. But deep down, beyond our job, our purpose is bigger than that. Being able to articulate our purpose will help empower, drive, and inspire action. 

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The gift that was given to me yesterday was a cold, gray stone. I have the responsibility of leaving no stone unturned until I am clear about my purpose and the journey that I’m taking during this time on Earth. I need to push away those roadblocks, turn over stones, and discover more about myself. 
                       
As I reflect on the messages from the incredible speakers, I will continue to post my thoughts through their words and inspiration in the upcoming posts on my personal blog. You can follow along and hear their stories of purpose at LinkToLearning!
                      
Molly Fletcher, Neeta Bhushan, Ginger Hardage, Laura Vanderkan, Shabnam Mogharabi, Mama Jan Smith, Dr. Bernice King, and Jenn Lim
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Learner, Thinker, Writer: Marsha Harris serves the Trinity School community as the Director of Curriculum.

Trail Magic

For my father’s 75th birthday a couple of years ago, my husband and four friends about our age joined him in hiking the “100 Mile Wilderness,” which is actually the top 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  They planned it for a couple of years, mapping out their meals, miles and carefully measured weights of their packs.  On the Friday before Labor Day, they left Atlanta to begin their ten day adventure.

My dad had always loved hiking and being outdoors, taking his own English students from McCallie and Westminster out on trails to read such poetry as Frost’s “Swinging from Birches” in places where they could actually try what the poem described. There is something about nature that restores our humanity in the midst of a world that often demands we operate more like machines, which is why the trail often sends hikers home more alive than when they began.  While the unaccosted beauty of nature does so much to heal one’s soul from the constant barrage of daily demands and responsibilities, the isolation from people for my extroverted dad in his early 20’s prematurely ended his first attempt at completing a solo hike of the entire AT.  So, it was this mission of completing what he’d set out to do so long ago, but this time with a “band of brothers,” that compelled them to go.

One of many special things about the Appalachian Trail are the traditions of the trail, such as hikers abandoning their real names and going instead by nick names, provided by others in the group, by which they are known up and down the trail.  There are also certain accepted mantras, like “hike your own hike,” which gives each explorer permission to accomplish what he or she needs from the trail rather than what his or her companions have come there to achieve.  “Trail Magic” is the AT’s version of “paying it forward.”  When you have extra cinnamon rolls to share with other groups at one of your stops, they also may share extra provisions on a following day with another group.  Or, providing piggy back rides for small hikers over deeper streams may inspire similar labor to be shared further along.

For my birthday this year, my husband (with the help of my three children, parents and sister), created a box labeled “Trail Magic” for my school year.  Inside this truly magical box are 180 envelopes (the number of school days he thought we had) in each of which one of the seven of them had copied a poem or a joke or photograph, or written a note for me to open at the start of each day in my classroom.  So far this year, I have begun my day inspired by Longfellow, amused by my 7 year old, brought to tears by a love note, and made to laugh out loud by a funny photograph.   This Trail Magic has propelled me into my day with my students better equipped to resist the pressure to have that place become a factory of life sucking machine like accomplishment, and instead a space that restores and relishes the fullness of our humanity, in all of its mess and marvelousness, that we all may engage the world more alive than we were before.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Jane Gilbert, 4th grade teacher

Cherishing Childhood

The other day, my husband and I ran into Addie, one of my students, out in public. We had a sweet but brief exchange, and then we were on our way to enjoy the rest of our weekend. As she was walking away, my husband commented on how young my student looked.

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, the way you talk about your students makes them seem so much older. You talk about loving Fifth Grade because the students are independent and responsible. They can even email you. I just pictured older kids.”

His response really made me think. I do love Fifth Graders because they are becoming independent and responsible, but the thing I love most about my students, is the fact that they are still kids. The are playful, energetic, and curious. Recess is still their most prized possession because they still enjoy playing outside. These 10 and 11 year olds eagerly want to please their teachers while seeking the approval of their peers. And they are not too old to love a good hug from me.

Having the second oldest students in the school makes it easy to push responsibility and independence on the students. While those skills and characteristics are very important pieces of the Fifth Grade year at Trinity, cherishing childhood is just as important. And let’s face it, recess makes us all smile!

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Laura McRae serves the Trinity School community as a Fifth Grade Teacher.

Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

Needless to say, I have done more than my share of reflecting this past week as Sarah prepared to graduate. The last nine years of my daughter’s life have been spent at Trinity School. With each passing year, I watched her engage with the faculty carefully chosen to support the learners at each stage of development. I watched her experience the curriculum and activities that we as a school had developed to help students build a strong academic and character foundation, cherish childhood, empower learners, deepen experiences and to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and confidence. All of this was designed to help students flourish. It’s a lovely tagline, evoking a picture of life unfolding. The marketing strategy is more than a clever draw on one’s heartstrings. A Trinity journey results in students who flourish. I know. I watched it happen.

Sarah entered the Butterfly class, full of delight and activity. She was disinterested in coloring in the lines, often failed to follow instructions, and was busy when she was supposed to be sitting still. At the same time, she loved the roly polys she found at recess, cherished dress up time, and devoured the lunches – as her clothes clearly showed each afternoon. Reading came hard and slow for her. Her classmates zoomed ahead. Learning Team members intervened to support her, yet she still lagged behind. Friendships lagged as well. It was hard to be different. I often wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a good fit at Trinity. Sarah could do math with ease, and she loved art and music. But still the reading and writing kept her from feeling like she was a student.

Third Grade came and our lives changed in an instant with the death of her father. It was the Trinity family who made sure my daughter was okay. Miss Paige bought her art supplies, knowing how she loved to draw and perhaps drawing would help her sort out her feelings. Miss Coote showered her with love and encouragement. Miss Suzanne wrote her a note about her own loss at the age of 9. Ms. Hansen honored the math student that she was so proud to be. Reading was still the enemy, and she was even further behind due to the emotional toll and lack of progress.

Fourth Grade. A year that I had dreaded as a parent, knowing that the amount of reading and writing increased. Knowing that friendships become even more difficult for girls. Knowing that reading would impact the math student she was so proud to be. A diagnosis of dyslexia, flair pens introduced by Miss Nims, new methods of taking notes shared by Mrs. Dickey, Mrs. Lynah, a devoted Trinity teacher who tutored her with gusto, and Learning Ally turned her story around. Day-by-day, she gained confidence as a reader. For the fourth year in a row, her teachers had carefully placed her with her dear friend who loved her for who she was, and she had new opportunities to show what she knew in different ways. All of a sudden, she started talking like a student, sharing what she was learning, seeking information, choosing to read. She worked hard. So hard.

Fast forward to her Leadership year. Cobalt blue. Meaningful school field trips and outdoor education trips. Student Council. Carnegie Hall. Tours for prospective parents. Taking tours at prospective secondary schools. Projects where art and creativity were honored. Opportunities to think differently. Opera. Capstone about the advantages of dyslexia! And this week. . . Graduation.

Each year, growth as a learner. Each year, growth as a friend. Each year, growth as a thinker. Each year, opportunities to shine in her own way. As I have reflected upon her journey at Trinity School, and I have shed more than a few tears at this loss of childhood, I have been immensely proud of the school that has shaped Sarah, allowing her to stretch and honoring the gifts she brings so joyfully. Thank you, Trinity School, for helping my girl flourish.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves the Trinity Community as the Upper Elementary Division Head.

A Song in the Spotlight

It’s the final stretch. I can see summer’s promise of mornings lazing in my PJs, afternoons lost to the hammock and a book, and evenings’ dark freckled by fireflies. But between me and all the splendid serenity of summer are progress reports.  And Graduation rehearsals.  And Fun and Field Day.  And Morning of Memories.  And the kickball game.  And final reflections for MyLearning.  And, and, and!

This is a time of year when I often feel rushed or to feel the desire to speed through final things that seem to be standing in the way of my well-deserved break. It’s easy to think, “Ugh! The kickball game is coming up. It’s going to be so hot out there. I don’t know why we bother.” Or, “I’ll just throw this in their MyLearning as a final piece. The parents don’t even look at these anyway.” I’ve been at this job for a while. I’ve seen it all. I know what to expect in these last weeks and from these kids.

But, last Thursday morning, I was reminded of something very important during the student performance of “Carmen.”

Heather F. as Micaela. Photo by Paul Ward

Our Micaela began singing her aria, but the audience couldn’t hear it. Those of us who had been in the rehearsals with her for the last four weeks knew she was singing it in French, and we knew the lovely sound of her voice because we had heard it many times. But, for this almost 12-year-old chanteuse, this was her one shot to show her fellow Trinity students how hard she had been working on mastering this song. It was through the admirable actions of our talented music teachers that I was reminded of the importance of every moment for our students. While I may be returning to 6th Grade again in August, these students will never have another chance at being Trinity 6th Graders again. Dr. Chandler quickly brought her piano playing down so that the young lady might be heard. But after a few moments, Mrs. Vrieland stated, “No, she’s going to start over.”

These decisions allowed the other adults who were working as stagehands and crew to remedy the issue with the young singer’s microphone, and she was given the chance to sing her song in front of her fellow Trinitians so that it could be heard. Doesn’t every young learner deserve the chance to sing their own songs so that they can be heard, regardless of how many times we, the adults, might have heard it in practice or a similar tune before? Where are the places that we, as teachers, can bring down the competing noise or restart the song once everything is in order?

In these last weeks, I hope every one of our students is given their rightful moment in the spotlight because each moment only comes around once, and they will never again be 6th Grade stars of an opera, or 4th Grade egg safety capsule designers, or 1st Grade authors of a book on Georgia animals, or Pre-K explorers seeking a wayward pastry.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

TEAM

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
― Helen Keller

I love my teams. I am a part of several at Trinity – my beloved 6th Grade team, the caring and supportive 6th Grade values/outdoor ed team, the inspiring math curriculum team. These teams all perform valuable tasks at Trinity. Without these teams functioning at high levels, the students at our school would not have the grand experiences that they currently have.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
― Phil Jackson

Depending on the day and the team, I contribute differently. I may offer my organizational abilities or my peacemaking skills or my nurturing disposition. I hope my teams appreciate my contributions even a fraction of what I learn and value from working with them. From Javonne, purpose; from Kailynn, creativity; from Kate, enthusiasm; from Brian, encouragement; from Sarah Morgan, sensitivity; from Becky H, introspection; from Kerry, poise. These single characteristics are just the tip of the iceberg. I am always amazed at the wealth of talents on my teams.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
― Ken Blanchard

I feel fortunate that with all my teams there are common threads. First, we have a definite sense of camaraderie and support. Second, we share common goals and are committed to reaching them. Next, we all bring our best selves to the table. Also, we are professionals who enjoy collaboration. Finally, for the most part, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. (You will often hear the 6th Grade team laughing with each other, sometimes at each other, but always with love.)

“Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
― Mattie Stepanek

This last quote capsulizes the spirit and truth that I experience every day with my teams at Trinity. How lucky am I?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kristi Story serves the Trinity School community as the 6th Grade math teacher.

Keep in Rhythm

One of the best parts of being a member of the 6th Grade teaching team is a guaranteed spot on the two Outdoor Education trips a year. When I interviewed for the position of 6th Grade science teacher, I tried not to let my glee show too much as I was asked, “How do you feel about tent camping?” As a young person, I loved going to camp. As a young adult, I worked every week I could at camp. Every opportunity to try something new– from knots to fire building, from constellation identification and legends to exploring tide pool communities, and from popsicle-stick crafts to small boat sailing– was another opportunity to learn by engaging in play. I felt like I had a lot of background and skills that could enhance Trinity’s Outdoor Ed program. What I didn’t realize was that even with my vast camp experience, it would be the 6th Graders who would teach me something new on our trips together.

“Keep in rhythm,

Jolly, jolly rhythm.

Ready- o?

Let’s go!

Starting with?

Ze- ro!” begins one of my favorite hand-song games from my days at Girl Scout Camp Mahachee. Two weeks ago, as the Oaks and I bumped along in our “hayride” back from feeding the chickens at Camp Twin Lakes, I taught the group sitting around me this simple game. Rhythm is kept by players hitting their thighs twice, then clapping twice. Each player is assigned a number from zero on up. “Zero” begins the game by saying “zero, zero” as they hit their thighs twice, and then as “zero” claps twice, he or she says another number twice. The player with the number called by “zero” then says that number twice while hitting their thighs and then calls a different number while clapping twice. Play continues like this until someone falls out of rhythm, doesn’t respond to their number, or calls a number that is already out. It’s an easy game to learn, and the Oaks took to it quickly, with several of them choosing to continue to play it over putt-putt, archery, or tennis after we met back up with the rest of the Leadership class.

Before I knew it, the circle of players had gotten quite large; I think at one point there were players numbered 14 and 15! I was tickled to watch some of the original Oak players beginning to instruct those new to the circle… “Here, just watch for a bit, and you’ll get it…”, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you a Mulligan the first time you’d be ‘out’ so that you can learn before it counts…”, and “Okay, now let’s review; which numbers are left?” There was lots of laughter as 6th Graders and adults “kept in rhythm” that afternoon.

After a time, I left my place in the circle. This old brain had a hard time remembering if I was number seven or two, and the tops of my thighs were getting quite red. As I sat on the grass and watched the happy group continuing to play I thought how prepared these 6th Graders were for the next stage in their lives and education– a stage that would find them as members of a new community, a new circle.

Our Trinity students see the value in watching for a bit and giving and getting encouragement during the learning process. They understand that everyone needs to take “Mulligans” when they are in the learning stage because that will encourage risk-taking and experimentation without punitive consequences. Trinitians know that it’s a good idea to assess where they are and what they know as they go along. They do know how to keep in with the figurative rhythm of the group and keep it “jolly.” And even though in August they will be “starting with zero” at their new schools, they are ready and eager to see where this game takes them.

These are good lessons for all of us– it doesn’t matter if we’re 12 and heading off to a new school, or 43 and returning to the science lab again next year.  Everyone needs to find some “jolly, jolly rhythm,” but if you’re struggling to find yours, I can highly recommend 33 excellent “teachers.”

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

Contracting a Creed

Kind of like that tickle in the back of your throat that signals that you might be coming down with something, I’m not sure when the idea for having a classroom creed infected my brain. It likely started sometime last school year when the faculty was working on our SAIS self-study. With all of the work we were doing to collaboratively describe what it is we do here at Trinity School, I started thinking about what it is I do in my classroom. Now, by looking at the tagline at the bottom of this piece, or by asking someone around the building, you might decide, “She’s a science teacher. I bet she does labs.” And, yes, I “do” labs. I also “do” notes, and questioning, and lecturing, and reflecting, and problem-solving. But, that really doesn’t cover all that I want to do and all that I promise myself I will do for my students.

Much like the annoying cough that you grapple with once you’ve succumbed to the cold you were fighting, I don’t remember the first time I watched Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk on how great leaders inspire action (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action and totally worth the investment of 18 minutes). I’m sure I saw it before our self-study work, we probably also watched it as a faculty during the work, and then since then, it seems I can’t escape running into his talk. Sometimes a professor at Kennesaw State would mention it, sometimes it’s referenced on Twitter, but everywhere I turned, I was being presented with his golden circle. And that forced me to think about how knowing my why influences the how and the what of  what I “do” in my classroom.

So, in the same way we might start dosing ourselves with extra servings of orange juice, I started tinkering with what would become my classroom creed. Of course, I wanted to state clearly that knowledge was important in my classroom, but I also wanted to include that just having knowledge was not as important as being able to work with knowledge and work towards knowledge. I also wanted to include within my creed something that would address how I would model, and expect students to mirror, how we would all behave around learning and the knowledge we were gaining. It was important to include something about what success looks like. And, I wanted to include a directive for me, and some reassurance for those who might struggle, about how knowledge will be gained. Scrawled within a composition notebook that holds notes from a quantitative research class I took summer of 2015 and drafts of a few “welcome to our class” letters, there is a page that lists: knowledge- shared, built, dive deeper; passionate learners; success- more than one kind; and buttressing learning toward success.

Occasionally, the composition notebook would fall open, and I would look at my list and make some tweaks, but nothing ever happened with it. Like admitting I actually have a cold, I knew I was avoiding completing my thoughts on a classroom creed because I wasn’t sure I was going to like putting it in print. What if I had it posted and someone questioned whether I was doing these lofty things?

And then, just recently, I came across a quote from feminist, civil-rights activist, and poet Audre Lorde that spurred me to complete my creed. Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I had a vision of why, and how, and what I wanted my classroom to be; I trusted in my strength to be the kind of classroom leader my students deserved; and I wanted to be powerful rather than afraid, so I went to work and set something down on paper.

If you find yourself downstairs near the science lab, stop in, and check me on it. Honestly, I’m hoping that you will be infected by the “creed bug,” as well. We can start our own creed movement!  Because in taking a stance on what we do, we begin “treatment,” and we move ourselves closer to all we hope to be.  And in 1005 we strive to… Share, recycle, construct and deconstruct knowledge. Have passion about knowledge and learning be unmistakable. Celebrate multiple forms of excellence. And build bridges to move learners closer to knowledge.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

What’s in a name?

If the first thing that pops into your mind after reading this title is Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, then you are not alone.  In the play, Juliet questions “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet.”  Juliet is implying that Romeo’s family name, Montague means nothing and they should be together.

I disagree with Juliet.  I think a person’s name means everything.   When you are having a conversation and someone’s name comes up, you immediately think about the characteristics and values that individual possesses.

You may have experienced being in an unfamiliar place and hear your name called.  All of the sudden you might feel more welcome, more known.  The opposite is true when you hear your name and you turn to see who was calling for you and they were referring to a different “Brian”.   Talk about a total let down.

I have witnessed the positive power of a name right here in the hallways of our school.   A student with hunched shoulders, head down, and dragging feet walking down the hallway will quickly stand a little taller and walk with joy from hearing the words, “Good morning, Stephanie!”

I have seen a child sitting alone in the farthest area of the field, head in their lap,  turn into an energetic athlete playing soccer upon hearing the words from a classmate, “Hey Sam, would you like to play soccer with us?”  I’m sure you have experienced the positive “name” effect as well.

I love the quote, “Once a Trinity student, always a Trinity student.”  Each Trinity student has a name and I challenge everyone to learn the names of as many of our students as possible.  I guarantee it will make a positive impact on you and our Trinity community.  Once you know a child’s name, you will be more willing to interact and build a lasting relationship with them.  If we stretch ourselves to learn five additional student’s names, then each student at Trinity School will have one more adult taking an interest in them.  For a child, there is no better feeling than someone caring about them.  Let’s do our part and make sure each student feels special at Trinity.

You may be reading this post and thinking to yourself “I’m out, I am horrible at remembering names.”  So, here are a few helpful hints:

  • Review last year’s year book, try to memorize photos and names
  • Review a substitute binder, they have updated photos and names
  • Read Forbes article, The Five Best Tricks To Remember Names by Kristi Hedges.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Brian Balocki serves the Trinity School community as a lead Physical Education Teacher

The Painfulness of Growth is the Pathway to Flourishing

“Not the twizzlers! NOT. THE. TWIIIIZZZLERRRRS!” my friend’s toddler would scream at the sight of tweezers in the event of a splinter. It seems other than fingers, the bottoms of feet are where small children most frequently experience the assault of splinters, impeding their ability to move about freely and shooting pain into their tender feet. And yet, the fear of the solution, the antidote, the instrument of healing, convinces the small child that the impediment of the splinter is better than the terrifying pain of removing it.

As adults, our response is not all that different when it comes to change, whether that be external changes in our circumstances or the changes that are inherent in learning and personal development. As teachers of children, we recognize their resistance when introduced to new concepts and asked to struggle through the process of learning. Children and grown-ups alike momentarily assume that the uncomfortable process, one that begins with not understanding and then moves into a period of disorientation, is the sum total of the event and therefore to be rejected immediately upon introduction. And yet, this process is much like a vaccination. The pain of the injection is not the doctor’s purpose but rather the prevention of the greater pain of viruses in the future and the ultimate flourishing health of the patient.

Reading through my Facebook feed after significant national events over the past few years, I see very intelligent, “good” people giving impassioned arguments from opposing directions. There unfortunately appears to be this same resistance to listening and learning from one another because the initial reaction to an opposing view is so distressing that we just want it all to go away. I can be so committed to my own interpretations of my personal experiences that I just refuse to see them from another perspective.  This fear of the “twizzlers” is certainly why a large number of people have begun begging for their newsfeed to return to pictures of babies and food. Those cute and happy images do not require that I move through dissonance and disorientation. But those images also do not help me to grow.

Educators are forever promoting the ability to see a situation from another point of view and to embrace a growth mindset. But in order for this to be achieved, one must submit to momentary intellectual and emotional distress just as muscles must be broken down to be strengthened. It is helpful for me as a teacher to recognize that my own default mode is to resist change, to be an object at rest that stays at rest and might throw a tantrum at any implication that I should be asked to become an object in motion. I am not inclined to be moved until I am convinced that life without the splinter in my foot might actually be more enjoyable, might allow me to run without pain, might allow me to go further and experience more.

What if we as adults begin to more tangibly model a willingness to see beyond our own experiences of the world to understand the validity of someone else’s? What if instead of resisting the discomfort, we welcome it, not as martyrs but as those who truly believe it is the golden ticket to enjoying life and loving others even more than a chocolate factory? What if we could then invite our students into the process of change not just for its own sake, but because we had come to believe that a growth mindset requires a moment of distress, but that struggle leads to a lifetime of flourishing?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jane Gilbert, serves the Trinity School community as a 4th Grade Assistant Teacher