Happy Teacher Appreciation Week
As the Alumni Facebook feed popped cheerfully upon my wall and I saw "one bulldog, one bark" in a post, I thought about the catchphrase's value and meaningfulness in our school culture.
What a really amazing week it has been with you guys in terms of hearing our one bark and being in Bulldog Nation. As we were sitting in our teacher's roundtable listening to your "whys" behind teaching, "whys" behind our school, it occured to me that in reality, we are all on such similar pages. We are all barking the same song despite the fact our pitches and tones may be varied.
In fact, some of us were called from a young age to be a teacher, while others of us found the path as a second career. Some of us knew right away in college that we were intended to raise up a generation of students, while for others of us, we took a more winded path to our calling. But regardless of how we were called, the point is that we are here together, and what we hear from all of you is this: "I am here because I love these students and I want to give them something beyond the classroom to help them succeed in their life; I am here because I want to make meaningful change in the life of someone besides myself; I am here because I want to show them that I made it, and there is something more to life for them. And in this one vision, we are Team Beach. And in this one vision, we are educators, driven to serve others with everything that we have as one bulldog, and one bark.
But despite the fact we may have the same why, and we may have the same voice, we are all simply by nature different people in and of ourselves. Some of us, from loud and boisterous families (Italian, in my case) bring that to the table. Some of us are from more quiet places and an introverted nature lies within us. Others of us bring a cultural perspective from a completely different part of the country, while many of us are Savannah natives. Some bring their own eccentricities to the school while some bring firm mindsets. Some of us handle class management with a more conversational, collaborative approach while others believe in a more strict parenting approach. But when we look at the ways in which we are so very different, we must never see our different as necessarily wrong. Instead, we must ask ourselves and one another: Is my vision true to my "why"? Is my vision working for the kids? And if it is not, how must it change?
I look around, and I'll be honest. I am overwhelmed by the, phenomenal love of our faculty and staff. I am thrilled by the way in which we do view one another as a team and family. I am exhilarated as I watch you "do your thing" in your classroom to work with students, and as we listened to your ideas at the roundtable, I think each of us were so impressed that even though you are exhausted of giving so very much of yourself, you are still willing to give more in order that our students may prosper. We see you going beyond, coaching a student through a college application. We notice the absolute passion you have for those on your caseload, and the tutorials you hold after school more than just one day. We notice you getting out of your comfort zone, teaching others' kids, so that they may have the best chance possible of learning as much as possible. We notice that light on in the school as we go home to my family, yet you stay and work to create a beautiful event. We see the 32.5 perfectly sharpened pencils in box. The 32.5 students waiting to receive your counsel. The 32.5 drawings from your students that you have shared with us in the hall. The 32.5 reports or documentation pieces you've filed to keep our school moving. Whoever you are, and whatever you do, there is beauty in your passion. And even when it is different than someone else's, it still shines as brightly as theirs, even if the jewel is not exactly the same. And even when we cannot understand one another, we can appreciate even in these times and speak as one bark, one voice
Because of you, our students have food to eat that warms the spirit and the soul. Because of you, our building communicates the regal nature of our bulldogs, clean and tidy. Because of you, kids know there is someone waiting there for them each and every single day that loves them and finds meaning in them, even when it is hard for them to find it in themselves. Because of you, kids have jobs, and parents can leave their children with special needs in the hands of a person they trust fully to love them just as much as they do. Because of you, student deficit is decreased, student learning is made meaningful, and students learn to find their passion and a place where they can use it in life. Because of you, students learn how to read and write for the real world, and form relationships that push them to succeed beyond the four walls of a building. Because of you, our students have more father figures, mother figures, aunties, uncles. Because of you, another person prospers and feels the strongest human emotion of belonging and love.
Maybe such a perspective seems over-the-top cheery, but even in the hard days, the meaningfulness of what we do is absolutely priceless and worthy of celebration. Conflict at times will always exist because we are all human beings with our own passions. But what we are doing is meaningful work, building bonds with our students, parents, and each other. What we are doing matters, and I suspect we each go to bed at night, absolutely exhausted, but with visions of improvement dancing in our minds. Our school is interwoven in who we are, and perhaps that is the beauty of the Bulldog tradition. Perhaps it is the reality, that even though we are from different places, when you become a bulldog, you always remain a bulldog; no matter how your roots are woven into the foundation, you are regarded as fully-grafted into the family.
But regardless of what we do and the ways we do it, we must never lose sight of our why, the students. And when it comes down to a situation that really seems insolvable, perhaps then we should pull out the game-changer...and ask, what aligns most with preparing students to succeed beyond our school walls? And perhaps we must ask ourselves: do they know someone is in their corner, cheering for them to find their purpose in life and helping them to find the self-confidence to achieve it as positivity lights their path? If we are speaking with one voice, that voice that is pro-students in all situations, we are most surely one bulldog and strong enough to face any opposition that may attempt to thwart us.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! You ALL ROCK!
...Dissecting mammals, and DNA-models, hurricane tracking and pellets from owls, cabbage PHs, project-based learning...these are a few of her favorite things…
Walking down the ninth grade hallway toward the classroom of everything science, I notice student-work- rainbows shining prismatically from the face of the lockers. Brightening up the beige walls, engaging student work from Ms. Brown’s class offers proof that student learning is gold. As I approach closer, the halls come alive with the sound of learning students.
In her second year at Beach High, Ms. Lantonya Brown earned her B.S. in Radiology and her Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary Science from Armstrong University. With such a tough curriculum, her hobbies have inspired her and motivated her throughout the years. Though she’s a scientific expert, she loves to read just about anything, including comic books while she also enjoys listening to music.
But she does not play alone. Ms. Brown has been married for seven years to her wonderful husband, Mark, celebrating eight years soon. Her two daughters, Arielle and Alexa bring joy to the both of them. As a family, they all enjoy playing the video games with their superstar mom and super-involved dad. This supportive foundation encourages Ms. Brown to build a similar foundation of care and concern in her own classroom.
As a teacher, Ms. Brown emphasizes learning to grow as a professional, and this year has narrowed her focus on strengthening her classroom management skills with the help of her mentors. Believing that a strong foundation grows from teamwork, these mentors have helped her unpack the complex biology standards and relate them to everyday life. With their advice and student participation, she has established a solid foundation of rituals and routines, consistently referring to them throughout the year, even explaining why and how they benefit the students to the students themselves, giving them a safe, stable classroom in which to learn and impeccable buy-in.
And to Ms. Brown, as this foundation is established, engaging students is absolutely crucial. Creating various labs, games, and activities to do with her students, she consistently plans one lab per week with students as she recognizes just how much they enjoy and benefit from hands-on activity in the classroom. In addition, in order to help students encode knowledge through emotional effect, she leads the class in playing educational games such as Family Feud, Kahoot and Jeopardy. These interactive components help students learn the material and make learning feel effortless yet profound. Attitude is everything, she argues. Content should be made personal and exciting; if the teacher is excited, the student will buy into the learning as well.
But, even the lives of the best teachers have struggles in and of themselves. Ms. Brown shares that she hasn’t “quite found a way to successfully balance work and home. I don't take work home anymore, but I find myself so engrossed with work that I stay at school late. I love Beach that much!” And we are thankful for that love. Ms. Brown is the early bird who gets the worm and also the person who runs closing time here at school, it seems. But, students benefit from all of the extra blood, sweat, and happy tears she pours into her work here at the school.
When considering advice for other teachers in the building, Ms. Brown shares, “Take the time to get to know your students. Support them in their extracurricular activities. Always say good morning to your students, even if they don't return the greeting. That may be the only kind word that they hear from an adult.” Clearly, Ms. Brown understands that relationships with students are the building blocks to learning. And she comprehends that showing care for the students, even when they don’t seem to appreciate it, can break down barriers and encourage them to pursue learning and push through a tough day.
And, in case any teacher is wondering, there is method to her relationship building good-kind-of-madness, and it starts from the beginning of the year. When the year first begins, Ms. Brown completes student interest surveys so that she understands how the students learn and what they like. During particular class sessions, she also plays music that the students like during the worktime. But the personal connection is not without sharing herself, and she finds students are shocked to understand that their teacher can have the same interests. She makes sure to share not only her hobbies, but she inquires about students' weekends, homes, days before the class opens. To her, creating “a warm and inviting classroom climate” for students is key.
In terms of special moments stemming from this climate, in one particular class, Ms. Brown transferred ownership to two of her more challenging students and allowed them the entire class period to teach her fellow students about Biodiversity. Though she was nervous, the students created not only lesson plans but also labs and activities entirely on their own. And more amazingly, she felt the student taught it better than she could have taught it herself, modeling their teachers’ effective workshop model. She comments, “the classroom still ran like a well-oiled machine and on their evaluation I commented how impressed I was with their work.” For her, this was a key moment in understanding the importance of turning ownership over learning to her students.
So it is no surprise that the heart of everything she does is involving students. She embraces Ben Franklin’s advice because it has changed her outlook on classroom management; "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn."
In honor of this month's SuperTeacher Ms. Brown and her favorite educational things, let's plan an activity that gives students distinct ownership and involvement in the classroom. And you, my teacher, might be so very surprised when your walls (and the halls outside your door) come alive with the sound of learning...
If you’re ever walking down the hall, and you notice a class the size of a sporting event within a classroom, it’s probably good ol’ Ms. Dimmitt’s students, all present and accounted for, ready to learn. In fact, Ms. Dimmitt’s students say that they enjoy her passion for the world of history, but more importantly, her concern for them as growing individuals. For them, Ms. Dimmitt’s class is engaging, and they understand she truly cares that they succeed, not only as students but as human beings in the world around them.
Jessica Dimmitt, a Social Studies teacher for seven years total, has spent the past three years here at Beach High School. Having earned a B.A. in History from Armstrong along with her teaching certification, she humorously thinks of herself as “a huge nerd” as she enjoys reading and all things history. She is also known to crochet baby items, blankets, and so much more, energized with her favorite drink: a Starbucks coffee. But one thing is for sure, her blood runs blue and gold.
Believing in Ohana, which means family in Hawaiian culture, Jessica spent part of her childhood in Hawaii. From a large family, Jessica is the only girl of three brothers and has nine nieces and nephews. It’s no wonder that Ms. Dimmitt brings that family-like atmosphere to her own classroom and inspires students with her joy and love, served with a little side of clever humor. Not only does she impart a love for the land of history, but she helps build community in her classroom, uniting them as Bulldog-Ohana, showing them they are all bound together and must respect one another.
Jessica claims her strength as content knowledge, but she struggles to as go as deep as she would like on certain topics within the content. She enjoys talking to the students about different times in history, relating them to our own. But content knowledge is certainly not her main focus; in fact, it’s connecting with the students. She comments:
“I talk to them. I ask them about their lives. I get excited about the things they get excited about. I use a lot of sarcasm (maybe too much sometimes). I tell them I miss them when they're absent. I talk to them when I see them in the halls. I don't want them to think the only time I talk to them or acknowledge them is when they're in the classroom.”
Clearly, Ms. Dimmitt realizes that in order to build relationships with students, she must show them that her care for them extends outside the four walls of her own classroom. She invests in their interests and their cares and ensures that she acknowledges even their presence. And as a result, she can’t nail down just one of her favorite teaching moments. She comments that there are so very many that take place in her classroom.
In particular, she enjoys deep discussion in her classroom, prompted by student inquiry. She loves it, “when I have the opportunity to engage that higher level thinking and when students are able to take the things we discussed and apply them to other things going on both in the past and current issues.” Ms. Dimmitt not only knows the content, but she wants the content to be meaningful to students outside of school. Given that we probably remember so little of the things that don’t apply to our lives, it is so very important to find that connection to students and what they appreciate.
In her world, in order to be a good teacher, engagement is central. Students must be engaged in what they are doing by being motivated to care about the subject matter. In terms of classroom management, she comments that a teacher must pick the few hills he or she is willing to die on, standing firm on them. But the same teacher must also “understand that not everything is worth dying for.” And when it comes to her best strategy? Ms. Dimmitt argues that using student data to determine what students have mastered and what areas they need remediation is the key to helping them grow.
In honor of Ms. Dimmitt the Great (Teacher, of course), let’s commit to doing one thing in our classroom that communicates Bulldog-Ohana. Whether it’s writing them a note of encouragement, speaking a word to them outside of classroom-ease, or just generally making eye-contact with a smile, we can impart to them that our class is a tight community. In fact, list below any strategies you use while teaching a lesson or working with a student that communicates the Bulldog family to them. Thank you Ms. Dimmitt for all you do for our Bulldogs!
Envisioning the Whole Child
It's after midnight and I can't sleep. I've just watched a movie that I can't really get over: it's called Arrival. Based on a short story by Chiang, "The Story of Your Life," the movie examines the complexity of time and choices and pain. As the aliens communicate their cyclical language, unbound by the confines of time, it is clear that their universal language sees everything as it simply is in its entirety at one moment.
So, why am I sitting here writing and thinking it has any connection to education?. I'll try to explain. In the movie, because the linguist narrator learns their language, she begins thinking in their language and can therefore examine life without the boundary of time. She floats from when her child was a baby to the memory of her death to the moments she had in between. So, all the while, her perspective is on literally the whole child, not just the individual moment.
And so I'm laying here thinking about how very cute babies are and their first moments. And then I'm thinking about how our students arrive to us each day, some beaten down by life, some responding in not always nice ways. It's easy to become jaded as a teacher, but what I'm wondering, is if we pictured that student in his or her entirety, start to finish, if we could see that student as an eager kindergartener sitting upon the tiger carpet square, sqiggling just to choose a book to read in class, if we could have a lens of the entire life and see the joy that kid felt the first time he solved a math problem in his first grade years, if we could see his wonderment as a two year old playing with a squishy caterpillar, in wonder and awe over its novelty., If perhaps we could see her grubby hands spinning the globe in wonderment, drawing and singing about her discoveries.. then would we plan differently with our content, speak differently when we're on the verge of exasperation with behavior, think differently when we hear another person giving up hope on that child?
It's a complex question but one that's keeping me awake tonight. The pivotal question in the movie was the following: if you could see your life start to finish would you change anything?. And so, tonight, as an educator, I'm wondering... If I could see my students' lives start to finish, would I change anything about my role in their lives?. Would I walk by that student having a tough day?. Would I make that lesson more enthralling?. Would I take a second with my own child to read a book? If every second determines every little direction (and we know through neuroscience it does), then are we channeling every opportunity we get with every child, even the ones who come to us from very hard places for the future result we want to see?
If we could see our students lives birth to the future all at the same moment, and if we could see our own in the same way, are we living each moment out the way we want the end path to look?. And alas, I lie awake.
It's that classroom moment when you slowly see sanity slipping out of your control because suddenly a child can't go to the bathroom in that last fifteen minutes or get in without a pass, and she doesn't like your call. It's that minivan moment when one child's immediate needs can't be fulfilled amidst changing the Wheels on the Bus song during changing lanes, while sipping your coffee, and attempting trying to make a phone call (okay, so not all at once), and that kid wants to argue with you or complain. That feeling of dread begins to seep into the pit of your stomach, actually adrenaline in your brain to be exact, and you prepare to win the fight with whatever tools necessary.
But what if...there were magic words that might be your saving grace, your powerful sword pulled from the impossible stone? What if there were a way to go home more rested instead of exhausted because you didn't spend your time engaged in teenage spiffs? What if it were really possible to not lose as much classtime on that student who thinks he just signed a contract with Rotten Tomatoes to review your classroom like a movie? Well, in fact, maybe there is a way to overcome that adrenaline coursing your veins that expends your energy supply and instead use effortless logic to overcome a child's argumentative nature, a part of character development.
So what do we often hear from students when they want to continue being kids, continue not doing work, or really, just continuing to do what they want to do?
Here are some familiar words that attempt argument: "But look at what he was doing; It wasn't me; This is boring; You are sickening; This is too much; But he...; But she...; But I need it to...; you don't like me; you're "annoying me." I'm sure your list of phrases is even more detailed that that, but the point of the matter remains; kids have arguing words, and perhaps stronger ones than we, especially when it's important to keep it professional as educators.
Get to the point and reveal the words, right? When you hear these "fighting" words from your students, in your own way when the child makes up any one of these excuses or others, use the magic words, or your version of the magic words boringly, without tone, and without sarcasm, and if you're especially good, with empathy, which means understanding where that student may be coming from that morning. And the words? Just a simple "I know" in response to diffuse the situation. And if you're asking the student to respond with an action and they're not? Just a simple, " I know...but what did I say?" will work some magic for you. If you have your own version of the words, that will neutralize the argument, feel free to share below.
If you'd like to read more about this successful approach to diffusing arguments, feel free to pick up a copy of Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Faye.
Let's face it. With lesson planning, running our classes, and being daily superheroes to our students, we rarely have a chance to place our thoughts about good student behavior or contribution into words. In fact, I keep drifting by small pre made cards at Target that I keep wanting to place into my cart to give out to others. Their mad libbian appeal is that I can complete them quickly yet they are thoughtful. But, alas, we know what happens at Target is an avalanche of cutesy gear for an even cutsier price. So, why not bring the idea home for a better price point?
And voila, the BARK out was created. I'll be placing these in boxes sometime next week. They're not a requirement, there's not a minimum. Just use them as you please to notice and encourage students. Even if it's not the student who usually comes to mind, pick someone who needs encouragement and let them know you've noticed them and they matter. This is just a small way we can build encouragement and a positive culture into our daily routine.
Perhaps these sunshiney notes of cheer aren't your typical cup of tea, but they're guaranteed to shine some light into some dark places and fuel even greater energy into already bright ones. As you already understand, you are the light to so many. Keep on shining Bulldogs. Your passion inspires us each and every day. For real, for real.
Here is a permanent link of the file to print.
Ms. Kristen LeClair: