Who Inspired You?

I wrote an entirely different blog post for this week, which I’d planned on posting this afternoon, when I got sidetracked by a conversation I had with a parent at school today. This mom came in as our Mystery Reader, and she chose a book called A Letter to My Teacher. It was a sweet story about a teacher who made a difference in a child’s life, and the child’s memories of this special teacher.

After reading, we talked about her book choice. This parent explained to me that she saw it in the bookstore and thought it had such an important message about honoring teachers and the work we do. She went on to say that it brought back memories for her of teachers who inspired her when she was growing up. I told her that I have a few teachers who I remember vividly, and asked her, “Who stands out for you? Who do you remember making a difference in your life?” She explained that she had an 8th grade math teacher who recognized her ability in math and gave her a different, more advanced, textbook to work from. Instead of keeping her on par with the rest of the class, he knew that she was ready for more and gave her the tools to learn more challenging concepts. She credits this teacher as the first to notice her aptitude for math and science, which set her on the path to a successful career as a physician.

Of course, this conversation made me think of the teachers who I remember vividly, who inspired me:

  • I remember quite clearly my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Karp, who had a bathtub in her classroom that we could sit in. She read us There’s a Carp in the Bathtub at the beginning of the school year, to connect the bathtub to her name. She used to always say, “I love you like crazy!” After moving to a new school (and into her classroom) hallway through the my Kindergarten year, I remember her calm, loving nature, and how she took care of me at a tough time.

  • My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Collins, read The Witches aloud to our class. For the chapter on how to spot a witch, she dyed her teeth blue, scratched her head often, and complained about her aching feet. If you don’t get the joke, get yourself a copy of the book and read it to your kids— you won’t regret it!

  • My math skills were never strong, but I faltered badly in middle school and landed myself in a ninth grade remedial math class. Ms. Chadwick, my teacher, was patient and soft-spoken. She explained math to me in a way I understood, and brought it down to my level to help me understand the concepts. I was her star pupil that year and learned the pre-algebra skills I had not understood the year before.

  • Mr. Pignone taught law at my high school. I took his class my junior year. He taught me the importance of note-taking and study skills (“Take copious notes!” was his motto). He also took our class on an unforgettable field trip to the county jail, which definitely scared me straight, and I never got in trouble during my high school career.

  • During a student teaching experience in first grade, my cooperating teacher (whose name escapes me at this moment, but who I can picture so clearly), taught me that making your voice softer, instead of louder, works magic in getting children’s attention.

I had forgotten some of these memories until today, and I could certainly list more. Teachers make a difference in their students’ lives (remember Brooke’s Flourish post?), and I know we make a difference with our kids every day.

Which teachers do you remember? Who inspired you?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Samantha Steinberg serves Trinity School as a Second Grade Teacher

Anyone can Change

Every teacher waits for that “Ah Ha” moment, where you see a student’s face light up with joy when they achieve success.  In my fifteen years of teaching, I have taken countless hours of professional development, learning tips and tricks to manage a classroom that has my students engaging in meaningful conversation, deep learning, and a fun and safe learning environment.  I have seen a wide variety of student behaviors from the stringent rule followers to the occasionally disruptive, to the downright rude and unapologetic student. Usually, after a few parent phone calls, emails, or conversations with the student, the behavior generally turns around, even if it is just a few days.

This year was different. I quickly learned that one student was going to be a hard nut to crack.  I knew I had to make some kind of connection with him, but my bag of tricks weren’t working for him.  He brought in a picture of him on a snowmobile to share with the class.  I chatted with him about it and got pretty much nothing. No real excitement out of his experience.  I don’t know about you, but if I had the opportunity to ride one of those, I would be sharing that experience with everyone like a child talks about Christmas morning.  Ok, no big deal. Let’s try compliments. Every morning, the students write about different National Day topics ranging from National Pancake Day, National Travel Day, National Do a Grouch a Favor Day and many other interesting topics.  My students love coming in each morning to see what they are writing about and receiving compliments from the class.  Seeking to praise his writing, I saw nothing but silliness and goofing off.  I took him out in the hall and asked him why he wasn’t following the different prompt questions in his writing.  He just shrugged his shoulders and told me his writing was funny, and he wanted to make the class laugh.

During a variety of lessons in small groups, using laptops and Nearpod, and whole group instruction, this student would not take anything seriously.  From the calling out inappropriate comments, teasing other students, playing with pencils and glue sticks, and drawing in his notebook, nothing was off limits.  It was heartbreaking to see a child, who clearly had so much potential, act like this.  He has parents who care about him and have partnered with me to create a platform for success.  Calm, nurturing conversations with my student were not working at all.  I have been doing this since August to no avail.  It was the same old behavior, lesson after lesson, day after day, and week after week.  I finally had enough.

Winter conferences were here.  Going through all of my conferences and taking last minute notes of talking points I wanted to hit with parents, I came across his name.  For the first time, I truly couldn’t think of many positive things to say. It was all about behavior, not taking responsibility in class, and not working to potential.  Emails home had not worked, conversations weren’t working, and positive discipline had failed.  Something needed to be done.  There had been too much adult effort without change.

As he and Mom walked into my room for conferences, I was nervous because I knew what needed to be done.  I knew he needed to hear the harsh truth, and I wouldn’t sugar coat it.   It went against everything I had done in my year and a half at Trinity.  As he began to speak about his strengths and what he liked at school, it was very basic.  “I like PE because I’m good at it.  I like Wagon Train because it’s fun.” As he spoke, I could feel my frustrations surfacing.  How could this child, with fantastic potential and obvious enjoyment of our classroom, give such a blasé answer to his mom and me about school?

Finally, it was my turn to talk. I started out by telling him I appreciate his thoughts on his learning.  I handed him his warm-up journal, the very same one he writes in each day when he comes into school.  I opened to an already marked page.  The prompt was, “If you were a bird and could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?  What would you see?  How would you feel?” I asked him to start reading.  “If I was a bird, I would fly to New York and fly into people’s windshields and make them crash.” Then the water works came.  He couldn’t finish.  I didn’t let up.  I turned to another marked page and had him read.  “If someone was bullying someone, I would threaten them with a toy gun and toy knife.  If they kept doing it, that’s your problem.” Uncontrollable crying.  I flipped to a few more pages which I already highlighted and showed his mom.  She was in shock.  It was now a teacher-led conference, with me placing a mirror in front of him, revealing all of his negative actions, pealing away layers that exposed the truth about his behavior. As we wrapped the conference up, my parting words were those of encouragement.  “I know that somewhere inside of you, you want to do well.  You have the ability to behave, to enjoy class, to learn from others.”  Mom thanked me up and down for this conference.  As they left, I shut the door and asked my assistant, was I too much?  Did I cross a line?  “You did what needed to be done,” she answered.

It has been six weeks since conferences. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have had to speak to him about negative behaviors.  His writing has dramatically turned around.  There are no more silly, inappropriate comments in his writing.  He now frequently shares with the class.  His table has won our weekly challenge two of the first three weeks because he has been a main contributor with clean up, organization, and helping his table mates.  His notebooks have been much more organized.  He is smiling in class.  I have been pointing this out to him privately and in front of the class.  Just last week, I congratulated his table for winning again, and I thanked him for helping them do so.  The class started clapping and went over to thank him.  His smile couldn’t have been bigger.  I truly hope that this continues throughout the rest of the year and on through his academic career.  It’s so much more fun and enjoyable for him to be a positive member of class, rather than seek the spotlight negatively.

Perhaps, I’ve learned you have until the very last minute to impact and reach a child.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Brian Toth serves the Trinity School community as 4th Grade lead teacher.

Teachers, Students, and the Curriculum

“Somewhere, I suspect, down in the elementary school, probably in the fifth and sixth grades, a subtle shift occurs.  The curriculum–subjects, topics, textbooks, workbooks, and the rest–comes between the teacher and student” (Goodland, 1984, p. 80).

I found this quote in Michael Fullan’s The New Meaning of Educational Change, and it stopped me in my tracks.  Now, the whole book is about how hard it is to make changes in education, so it’s not a really uplifting read, but this quote made me feel like my guts were being ripped from my torso.

It makes sense for high school; I certainly had teachers who placed quadratic equations or the First Constitutional Congress between us. But, curriculum gets between teacher and student as early as elementary school?  As early as fifth or sixth grade?  Those are the grades I have been a teacher in for more than half my career!  That’s horrifying!

And, I believe I can safely say that this is not happening at Trinity School.

At Trinity School, we share the out of doors with our students.  See Why Outdoor Education? and Keep in Rhythm

At Trinity School we value the arts and our students’ efforts and accomplishments in them.  See The Art of Badging and A Song in the Spotlight

At Trinity School we encourage students to take risks and build agency.  See Just Ask… and Modeling Improves Learning

At Trinity School we know students by name and as individuals, and we relish watching them flourish.  See What’s in a name? and Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

At Trinity School we push our students to discover new worlds- in between pages or across borders.  See Just a taste… and La Grafiti de Colombia

These Flourish posts are just a sampling from the 5th and 6th Grade.  The examples would go on for days if we looked at #TrinityLearns on Twitter and the tremendous work that is going on in every grade level.

I know that curriculum does not get between Trinity students and Trinity teachers, not in fifth and sixth grade, and not in any earlier grade either.  We’re all having way too much fun learning and flourishing together.

Fullan, Michael.  (2015). The New Meaning of Educational Change (5th ed.). Teachers College Press, Columbia University

Goodland, J.  (1984).  A Place Called School.  McGraw-Hill Education, New York.

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

“If a Bee Stings You, Give it a Flower”

Perspective:  Seeing life through the lens of a child. 

Recently, we were deep into the culminating lesson of our team handball unit. After several fundamental classes based on skills and lead-up games, we decided it would be fun to break our class into teams of three to play small-sided, competitive games. The students would have a chance to apply their well-rehearsed skills plus their new and existing knowledge of strategy to a competitive setting.  We, the teachers, would also have the opportunity to observe and reinforce gamesmanship and proper game etiquette. After all, once the scoreboard is turned on, sportsmanship can take on multiple personalities. Our numbers allowed us to have four games going on at once. Three of the four games were in cruise control. We witnessed shared responsibilities, movement from each player, strategic passes, integrity, and positive communication. They were a thing of beauty.

Our fourth game was equally poetic…or so we thought.

It is customary during the closing minutes of our classes to meet in the center of the gym as a group to process the day’s lesson. On this occasion, we asked the students to comment on their games, specifically, the participation, communication, gamesmanship, and integrity. Following several uplifting comments and compliments, one student raised her hand and stated that her team was NOT nice to her.

“When I dropped a pass, one of my teammates yelled at me. It’s not like I meant to miss the ball. It made me NOT want to play anymore.” Nearly in tears, it was apparent the girl was sincerely stung by the words of her teammate.

Anticipating a rebuttal from at least one of her teammates, there was nothing but silence. With the end of our time together quickly approaching, I was about to intervene when a hand shot up in the center of the group. Eager to share, the student exuded her familiar look of confidence and determination as she calmly waited to be called upon. It was a look that said, I know exactly how to remedy this situation.

I gladly called on Celeste.

My mom was recently trying to sell our house. She spent a lot of time getting the house in order so that people who were interested in buying the house would be impressed. She even baked cookies so the house would smell nice. A man and a woman came to look at our house. They were kind of obnoxious. They were saying things that didn’t make my mom happy. They didn’t seem to appreciate our house. When they left, my mom was really sad. She had worked so hard. So I just told my mom If a bee stings you, give it a flower! Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe they need us to be nice to them. Don’t let their mean words hurt you. Instead, maybe they need our kind words. We have a beautiful house, and it even smells like cookies.”

 With that, there was a brief silence in the gym. Thirty-nine other students and two teachers were in complete reflection mode. Celeste’s words were INDEED the perfect remedy for the situation. If a bee stings you, give it a flower.  So simple. So meaningful.

“How can we apply this to our situation?”

Without hesitation, Celeste responded. “That’s easy! You look the person who was being mean in the eye, and with a smile give them a friendly pat on the shoulder, then carry on. Go about your business. When people tell me I’m short, I just shrug my shoulders, give them a smile and go about my business.”

Often in life, we’re going to get stung by a bee. People are going to say or do mean things to us. How we respond to that bee sting is up to us. You can leave in the stinger, allowing it to fester and get infected, and over time, the pain will eventually lessen then go away. Or you could remove the stinger, apply ice, and understand the bee was simply trying to survive and protect itself or its family.

In any case, we should reflect not only on Celeste’s empathetic and compassionate statement, but the action she had poised behind those words.  As parents and teachers, we are constantly looking for the perfect, appropriate, and impacting lessons to impart on our kids. But maybe next time conflict arises, we should stop our words in their tracks and allow children to share their thoughts, flourishing in their own teachable moments.

 

Justin has been teaching physical education for 22 years.  He began his career teaching in Washington, DC before moving to Atlanta, Georgia to teach at Trinity School.  He is happily married and has three beautiful children who are constantly KEEPING HIM IN MOTION!

A Wish for the New Year

                  Wishing Tree – Chastain Park

Anyone who has known me since I was young knows that becoming a teacher was an oxymoron for me. As a child, my excitement for school pretty much ended the day I finally got to ride the big yellow bus for the first time in Kindergarten. My biggest gripes were: I had to get up early, I thought school was boring, and I hated being “stuck” in a room with fluorescent lights all day. All I really wanted to do was be outside or doing some form of art.  Because of this, I would often just sit at my seat, talk only when necessary, doodle, and look at the clock praying for the end of the day to come sooner than later.

Looking back and talking with my parents, I was often labeled as a kid that was hard to crack and not working to their ability. But, in actuality, I don’t think I was a hard kid to appease. The answer to helping me open up in school was actually very simple: Sit down, talk with me, and make a connection.  

My favorite teacher of all time, Mr. O., was a guru at this and continues to inspire and challenge me to try and work at his level of expertise. Mr. O. was my math teacher for three years. Not only did he teach his subject well, but he also took the time to make connections with all of his students.

During my sophomore year of high school I became sick. I was in the emergency room several times that year, at weekly doctor’s appointments, and was very scared. Mr. O. was the teacher who always asked how I was doing, told me that everything was going to be alright, and would talk to me when we didn’t know if things would be ok. This meant the world to me.

I wasn’t the only student that he took the time to make a connection with. I remember him sitting with kids before, during, and after class and talking to them. Oftentimes, past students would visit to say, “Hi,” or just to check in. He always had an open door and we knew we could talk to him about anything.

In 1999, when we got back from winter break, Mr. O did another activity that made everyone love going to class; he made a wish box for us. The wish box involved everyone writing down their hopes and wishes for the new year and for our lifetime. He told us that he was going to make a huge bonfire, burn the box in his backyard, and all of our dreams would float into the atmosphere. Everyone was in awe of this “math“  lesson, and I am positive that anyone he hadn’t made a connection with had one with him now. We all knew that Mr. O not only cared about us as students, but he cared about us as people too. This was such an exciting way to end my senior year of high school.

I still think about the wish box every new year and wonder if the things that came true were because of the box or if it was because I had a teacher who helped me believe in myself. I think it’s a little bit of both.

I don’t know where Mr. O is today, but I would like to thank him for teaching me what I believe to be one of life’s most important lessons; make a personal connection with those around you. So, to honor Mr. O., and teach by example, my class will be creating a wish box and my students’ hopes and dreams will float into the atmosphere like mine did 19 years ago. I hope this activity makes an impression on them, helps them work toward their goals, and assures them that their teachers care about their well-being and future.

Happy 2018 to everyone, and may all of your dreams come true!

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Brooke Ovorus, 4th Grade Teacher

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.