*I apologize if this is a bunch of ramblings. As I have a strange "writing process", I will not be rereading, editing or revising this piece. Hopefully this stream of consciousness makes sense.*
Well...here we are... Day one of 2019. Congrats all, you made it!
I wasn't even sure that I was going to be writing my annual #Oneword post. In fact, I was pretty sure I wasn't. But it has been tugging at me since last night, when I read last year's: Possibility: #Oneword2018. But here is the thing, it took me awhile to even convince myself to read it. Why? I had totally and completely forgotten the word I had chosen. And when I saw it, I wept. My heart hurt. I couldn't read. Why? I had totally forgotten that word was supposed to be my anchor for the year.
How could I possibly forget it? I remembered how seriously I took the process. I remember how much time and thought went into it. I remember that the word was a driving force in 2018...for awhile. I remember that I had a bracelet made with that word "Possibility" to go with my others- just so I wouldn't forget.
Well, guess where that bracelet is? I am embarrassed and saddened to say that it is gone and so are the others.
About a quarter of the way through 2018- I hit a few bumps...all at once. Honestly, they weren't major tragedies- but in my mind- they were. It was the collective hit of these things, at once, that derailed me. I remember this as clear as day- well maybe not so clear, because I don't even remember the particular catalyst. But what I do remember, is sitting in my car...looking at the bracelets. I took them off my wrist and with all my might, I broke them each in half. Not my proudest moment. That is something pretty out of my norm, and I regret it. But there they were...broken.
2018 hasn't been a stellar year for me. But one thing I do know; one thing that kept me moving forward was the fact that I tried...no matter how hard...no matter how sad...no matter how mad...no matter how happy...no matter how excited- one thing that got me through was looking for the learning in every situation. Always looking for the learning.
And what I know to be true is (with a lot of help from some friends)- when you look through that lens, you begin to see possibilities you didn't see before. You begin to realize possibilities that weren't there before. And you begin to change your perspective.
But it's HARD. And it's SLOW. And it's PAINFUL. And it is a JOURNEY. And I for one, am not healed from 2018 and I don't know if I want to be. I don't want to heal, I want to grow.
When I sat down to write, I intended to write my #oneword2019 post on "Understand", but that obviously isn't what came out of my mind...heart...fingers. So as usual, my hopes are that this post resonates with just one. That these vulnerable words help someone else to understand that there truly are peaks and valleys to life and at any given moment, someone is feeling the same way.
My call to action is this: Give yourself some grace. Give someone else some grace. And above all (a phrase that has been repeated to me so many times, I can't even fathom): Don't be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat someone else. Walk with yourself as you would walk with another.
As I was writing this, a new #Oneword2019 popped into my head: Seek. Let's see if it will stick?
A few weeks ago, something caused me to recoil (as I do) and stop writing. A friend happened to be over when I made this rash and unrealistic decision. He saw how upset I was and in our discussion, I figured out that I was particularly upset at the idea of not writing. I found myself saying "To me, writing has become breathing.". I had not really, realized how much I have depended on this outlet.
He was more upset at the reason I decided to shut myself down. I am a people pleaser, by nature (even though I proclaim to be "recovering") and I had displeased. You would think, at my age, I would have learned what my 19 year old son told my daughter the other day "You can't please everyone, so don't even try." Wise one - that kid of mine.
So this following quote is one that I need to learn to embrace if I am going to put myself out there:
A few days later, that same friend asked me what the difference was in keeping my writing private and sharing it publicly. This was a great question and I thought awhile on it, as I do both kinds of writing. I flashed back to my first few blogs, when a friend's response to my writing was "You know, I could buy you a nice journal so you don't have to air everything out there.". I remember wanting to stop, right then and there. But I didn't...why? Because I write in the hopes that it could help ONE other. If ONE person is encouraged, nudged, thinking differently or wheels are turned, it is worth it!
My friend, Daryl Myers, does an activity with his HS ELA students where they write "Why I..." I decided to write mine today.
My call to action is this: Find your thing. Your breath. And do it. And do it loud. And do it proud. And use me as a cautionary tale - don't stop if it is part of you.
"Ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride
Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no
I got to keep on movin'
Ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride
I'm running and I won't touch ground
Oh no, I got to keep on movin'" - Mathew Wilder
I didn't realize that when I woke up this morning, I would be writing a blog post on this. In fact, I didn't even know what "The Butterfly Effect" was until last night (besides an Ashton Kutcher movie that looked too freaky for me to watch). But last night I was listening to a talk by Rachel Hollis in which she mentioned it. I have had this connection with butterflies for many different reasons, but when I heard this phenomena explained- I had to learn more.
If you don't know, I will do my best to explain it, how I interpreted it. The Butterfly Effect is part of Chaos Theory (this seems like a theory I could really get into). In short : something that seems so minute, like the flutter of a butterfly's wings, will change the trajectory of events that follow.
And my mind just went on overdrive! I have often said that it is the small moments that equal big gains. In these cases, I was talking about sharing positivity with others, to in turn, help others to be positive
But here is something I hadn't thought of, until I learned about the Butterfly Effect- there is a flip side to that coin. One negative will also be a catalyst for many moments that come after. But how, is up to us.
On Friday, I read "Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."- little did I know that I would be connecting that to this. It is a great story that shows how small things can snowball and change us and our day. Often, we let that one negative open up the flood gates for more of the same. A chain reaction. The Butterfly Effect. Or at least I know that's my MO.
So what do we do with this? Well- I know what I am going to do. I am going to be more focused on what I put out to others. I want my wing flutter to be a positive one. I want to lighten a student's day. I want to brighten a colleague's perspective. I know that one negative from me, could change that person's day. I know that one negative action could be the negative icing on top of someone's already tough day. And I don't want that.
That seemingly flippant comment or sarcastic remark, may be perceived differently by the receiver. That look of frustration or a deep breath, may signal much more negative emotions to a child. That bright smile and eyes of hope may be what a teenager needed to turn his mind around. That authentic compliment may just be what that colleague needed to hear, to get through a tough day.
My call to action: Be conscious of what you say and do. It matters. What may seem tiny in your eyes, may just mean the whole world to another. So what do you want your mark to be? What do you want your flutter to create?
"Ms. Orlando...I don't think that it's fair for our class to be judged by how only a few of us in here behave." - 8 year old.
Out of the mouths of babes comes hard truth. This was a comment during a discussion about our class being "talked to" about how they were lining up from recess. I have noticed these "sweeping remarks" and was shaken when it was shared that the students noticed, too. We have worked so incredibly hard to change the culture of our class, but I guess no one can see it or feel it - but us. It makes me sad because these kids have been transformed.
Let me rewind, a bit. This is my first year back in the classroom after working at our district office for 4 years as a TOSA (teacher on special assignment). When I started the year, I was not prepared for the journey I was about to embark on.
I have written and spoken a lot about #cultureovercurriculum and I believe the importance of this to be true. And looking back over the last 67 days- I can finally see the pay off-and it was worth my tears, heart break, frustration, sleepless nights, reflecting and planning - and the students' hard work and commitment to our class.
These 28-3rd graders were strangers to me and I was a stranger to them. BUT, they were not strangers to each other. We are the only 3rd grade class on campus, so these students have all known each other for many years. Let's just say, this class is a fantastic mix of personalities, abilities and needs. And to be honest- it was a tough start.
We had some honest discussion at the beginning of the year. I took this information and used it to inform how I approached this class. I knew that based on what they shared, they first and foremost needed to trust me. And why should they? They had never seen nor heard of me before. The second thing I knew to be true was, we needed to work on positive mindsets. To me- the two go hand in hand.
So that is what I set out to do. I knew that we would be hard pressed to make any sense of content if those two things weren't in place. These students needed an environment where they knew, without a doubt, that they were cared for, believed in and safe. It hasn't been easy...but most important things aren't. But boy, has it been wort it.
I decided to share based on a conversation I had with a new teacher on Friday. She was talking about a high school class that she taught a few years ago and how difficult it was. I found myself saying "No one can see it, but if you walk into my room today, it is the complete opposite of what it was the first few weeks of school." She asked me to share what I did. All I could say was "We have been working , on building them b up by focusing on the positive and trust." *
We talk a lot in class about mutual respect, kindness toward others and honoring all of our differences. Maybe that is the key? WE talk. I don't believe that I really did that before. I'm not sure- I wish I could create some sort of manual to remind myself what worked and didn't, for the next round- but just like TEs don't teach kids- a manual will not support kids socially and emotionally. What worked today, may not work tomorrow. And how I approached one student is completely different from how I interact with another.
But what I will try to do is chronicle our journey. I should have been doing this from the start- but I wasn't quite there yet. I will do my best to recall how we got to where we are now, in a series of blog posts.
And don't get me wrong- we are NOT a perfect class, we are NOT a model class... we are a real, work in progress, growing together class.
Thanksgiving 2017 - I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing on this day, just one year ago. I know where I was emotionally, intellectually and physically. And none of it was pretty. None. But guess what folks? Live isn't pretty. Life is messy. Life is complicated and complex. Life has plot twists. Disappointments. Frustrations. Heart break. Heart ache. Triumphs. Successes. Celebrations. But most importantly, it has blessings. Today should not be the only day that we reflect and count those blessings, to tell others that we are thankful for them. We should be doing it...every...damn...day.
For me, this last year has not been an easy one. There was a lot of transition, a lot of change. Some were of my choice and some were not so much. In the last year, I had to adjust to a whole new life. New family circumstances, new living situation, new job, new job environment, new financial and day to day responsibilities. Basically, a whole new life- and that messed with my head and it messed with my heart. Why am I sharing this? Because we all go through our shi*...we are all going through our shi*- because that is what we must do to learn, grow and live. We go through it.
About a month ago, I was out to dinner and someone looked at me and said "Cori, you don't seem your usual happy self and that makes me sad. I always count on you to my my positive person." It was that last sentence that had me spinning. At that moment, I couldn't be anyone's anything. I couldn't shoulder that responsibility. I had to make a choice - was I going to be a "positive, happy go lucky impostor" or was I going to be me? I always have to be me- you always have to be you. It's just too difficult to be anyone else. Authenticity matters, but authenticity is hard. I think some people just don't know what to do with it.
I have been blessed with people in my life. All the people. The ones that show up. The ones that support. The ones that leave and the ones that stay. The ones that frustrate me. The ones I frustrate. The ones that push me. The ones that swerve in and out and the ones who are a steady presence. The ones who challenge me, the ones who hurt me, the ones who love me and the ones who care about me. They are ALL a blessing. And for them, on this Thanksgiving- I say "THANKS".
I am also thankful for the painful bumps. Glennon Doyle says "Pain is a traveling professor." and that is how I try to look at it. What is the learning that I can take from this situation? How can I use this to become stronger, healthier, smarter, more empathetic, sympathetic? How can I use what I have learned to help others in their path? Can I?
When really I look back, focus and reflect- I really do see the good, the positive, the blessings. There is so much tragedy and heartbreak around us- more so now than ever, especially locally. My little "growing pains" are nothing. So it's time to flip the switch- move from a deficit model of thinking to an abundance model. What DO I have? I have a roof over my head, I have a job, I have my health, I have my family (including two INCREDIBLE kids), I have my friends and I have the resources to put food on the table and provide for my little family of three, the best I can.
My call to action is this:
Reflect and be thankful today and every day. Look for the bright spots, sometimes they are hidden- but they are there. Share your thanks for others- they need to hear it, and you need to say it.
Happy Thanksgiving, All!
I'm not going to lie, this past few months, going back into the classroom have been HARD. Hard...hard...hard. But hard things aren't bad, they are what makes us who we are and for that we must be thankful.
My class has been working so hard, in so many areas and they have come so far. Sometimes we don't see clearly, when we are in the moment, and creating some space to reflect is necessary. I woke up this Sunday morning, with a thankful smile on my face. I began reflecting on the last week before break and beyond that, the past few months... and I had to share. It was too much to write and I don't think the emotion would have shown through my fingers. So I took a risk... a BIG risk for me.
I decided to create a series of short videos to chronicle the journey... breathe... it's not about me... it's about sharing our stories, celebrating our kids and shining on the bright spots. I will not be watching these, but if you do- hopefully you can find one thing that resonates, encourages or inspires you as we finish up this calendar year.
I have sat down and written this post three times in the last two days. When I come to the end, I just can't push publish. Why? Because what came out of my fingers was not aligned with my purpose for writing. When I read back at what I wrote, it was more of a "Dear Diary" of my complaints. Of plot twists and frustration in my classroom during one day- but more so, it was the inner dialogue that I am ashamed that was in my head. My friend, Alice Keeler, happened to be the "lucky" recipient of some of those thoughts, on this particular day. And these were her words: "These are not "Cori" statements, you are becoming the "grouchy teacher". Oh crap! She was right. Time to wake up! So the purpose here is not to talk about all of the things that went wrong, all of the inner and outer blaming I did. We all have "not so good" days. We are human and we need to be ok with being human. I often say that perfection is fiction, it's impossible. I also say that reflection on our fails and struggle are an important part of our growth journey...so here it is:
“Please don’t give up on my son, too, Ms. Orlando.” - were the words I heard, this past Monday. Those were the words that I NEEDED to hear, for a much required “wake up call”. Those are the words that have bounced around both my head and my heart for the last seven days. Those are the words that I will NEVER forget, because those words are life altering.
It was only a few short months ago, when this same parent spoke with me after school and shared some other words, that will also stick with me forever. “Thank you for the way that you treat my son. He has always believed that he was “bad” or “in trouble” for the way he acts. Thank you for focusing on the positive.”.
Same kid, two different heart-breaks. What gives? What gives is...me. I am human and I am imperfect. I fall...I fail...I have bad days- just like you.
I am choosing to be vulnerable and share my truths here, because I believe that we learn from these defining moments, ourselves- but I also believe in the power of stories and sharing. I believe that these stories- the “non-Pollyanna” stories are what connect us. So my hope is that my reflection, may help others to reflect and grow as well.
Here it is...
Monday was a tough teacher day. It doesn't matter what happened. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter who. None of that matters. It happens...to all of us. What matters was how I handled the day and it wasn't stellar. In fact, it was down right shameful, in my book.
I didn't loose my cool. I didn't raise my voice. Neither are my style. But what I did do, was let each "bump" pile up onto the next and the next until I was faced with a mountain that I just couldn't climb that day. And I caved.
I knew we, as a class, needed a restart- but I needed some time to think it through. So I gave my kids a Social Studies "newspaper" that I knew was well beyond most of their reading. I knew that the content was crap (there was an article about Palo Alto- no offense to Palo Alto, but I don't know what the purpose or learning was for my kids). There was a cross-word puzzle on the back...a CROSSWORD PUZZLE! It hurt. But unfortunately, I did it anyway. I could only let this go on for about 10 minutes. I changed it up and got them on the digital version where they could at least listen to it (for those that couldn't read), there were also videos and other "golden eggs". My directions "click around and be prepared to share three things you learned about the site." That felt a bit better, but still not good.
Regardless- my learning here and when reading through my other versions of this story- I made it about me. Me...me...me. And that is unacceptable.
I literally just said in my CUE Boom (I start around 18:50) a few weeks ago: "We need to be brutally humble practitioners of self reflection in order to grow. For me, that means taking myself out of the equation. This education gig isn't about me, it's about the kids" (Thank you FB closed captioning- (see below)- no running away from my own words allowed).
But it was when the parent looked at me, with tears building and pleaded with me to not "give up on her son" I just crumbled. I let me frustration of the day show through, I didn't keep it tucked in. I reassured her that I would never give up on her son. I admitted he had many struggles that day. That I had struggles that day. That as a class, we had struggles that day. But I also told her that struggle is part of life and tomorrow is a new day and we will figure it out together.
I NEVER want someone to have to question my commitment to them or their child, again.
So my purpose in sharing is this... We are all going to get frustrated, we are all going to fall down, we are all going to react and act...we are all human and must treat ourselves and others as such. I apologize to my students often. And then I talk them through my reflection and #failforward process. I think that is important for them, and it's important for me.
My call to action is this:
- Be kind to yourself
- If you fail - #failforward, #reflectforward, #learnforward, #growforward and #shareforward
- Reflect and then hit "re-start"
- Put kids at the heart of all you do - put them in front of you
- When in doubt, just teach your ass off and love on kids
You often wonder, "Does what I'm doing, matter?". And the answer should always be, unequivocally- "YES." Yet it is still a question that runs through our minds, sometimes daily...sometimes more. And my response is, if you live your life through your purpose and you live it out with integrity- what you do matters and beyond that, it matters positively.
What is it that I want my kids to know, without a doubt? And by kids I mean my own children and my students. These are the things that I want to instill in them and these are the things I want them to know for certain:
You are amazing and you are loved. You each have special talents and you each have special skills. But beyond that, you each have a golden heart and a beautiful soul. Stay connected to those. If you tether everything back to those things, you never have a need to doubt yourself. Use your gifts and talents to help others, to grow yourself and beyond. Radiate the light within you and bring others into that light. Encourage and embrace differences. Include others in all you do. And ignore the chatter. Ignore those who try to deter you and the good work you do. There will always be those who will try to block your path. Do not allow them. Either bring them in or walk around them.
Love those who aren't blessed enough to realize their own gifts to the world. Be kind to those that try to turn you around in your journey or knock you down from your climb. Be strong in knowing that YOU are good enough. That YOU are strong enough. That YOU can and are making a difference and stay that course.
You will hit brick walls, you will come across detours, you will cross many bridges...but YOU stay YOU and you keep pushing forward. You have a purpose. Find it. Go after it. Live it. Grow it. Share it. Be grounded in knowing that I believe in you, I am proud of you and you need to believe that in yourself.
Look for the good in others. Be an influencer. Be a changer. Be a lover and encourager of others. Use your gifts and your knowledge to propel yourself and others forward. You are a leader, whether you realize it or not. Someone is always watching, listening, learning and emulating. What is it that you want them to witness?
Stay strong in your convictions and lead from you heart, but listen to your mind. Do good. Bring joy. Live life.
In the past few years, writing has been my solace...my go to...my place to be vulnerable in the hopes at least one other person can connect. But I have literally sat in this same spot, every Saturday for the past month- and I have been frozen. I have so much in my head to share, but could not get any of it out- for various reasons.
But today, I feel compelled to push past those and pray that it is the right thing.
When I was out of the classroom, I often spoke and wrote about #cultureovercurriculum - I was even asked to write a book chapter on that subject. I whole-heartedly believed in it, because in the 14 years that I was in the classroom- my colleagues and I were encouraged to take the first month to get to know our kids, to build culture. Curriculum could wait. And I did and it did.
Now, jumping back into the classroom- I believe it now, more than ever. But it's hard. It's dam* hard. And once again- I apologize to any educator that may have felt judged or frustrated with my words or ideas while I was out of the classroom.
I believe that we connect through stories, so here is just one of the many from that past (first) 28 days of school.
From day 1, *John stood out to me. He was loud, he was disruptive, he filled up every quiet breath I took. He struggled to stay on task, he struggled to not cause others to be off task, he was disrespectful and he didn't produce any work. He obviously needed something.
Every time he was asked to do something, he would come up and tell me he "couldn't do it". I didn't know these kids, I didn't know him. So I was spending my time trying "manage", support and learn about 27 kids. I hate to admit, for the first week or so, I just told him "You can do it, just do what you can" and then moved on. Since this was the beginning of the year, I gave the class work that was a low cognitive load. Just so I could observe and learn about them. This shouldn't have been a struggle. #knowbetterdobetter
When I gave collaborative work, John seemed to thrive. He was excited, he shared his ideas and he wanted to share them with me. To this, I gave him my full attention, asked questions and praised his thinking, his effort and how well he was contributing to his team. I saw a light in his tired, sullen eyes and the beginnings of a smile.
The next week, while the students were writing, I finally sat down for a second to watch them work. I don't have a desk, so I just sat on the chair in the front of the room. I saw John get up and start walking, thinking he was going to go and disrupt another table. I just watched. He proved me wrong, he came all the way up front, to me. Whiteboard, paper and pencil in hand. He pulled a chair up in front of me and said "I need help.". Those three words, flipped the switch in me- woke me up to remembering why I was there. I had been so busy trying to "manage" various behaviors- I forgot my "why" - "To encourage and support others". I was there to help.
So I looked straight into those eyes and saw John for the first time. And so we began. He said he needed help writing, so I asked him to tell me, what he wanted to write. It was a great sentence and I asked him to start with the first word. He couldn't. I asked him to start with the first sound. He couldn't. This "woke me up" even more. He is in third grade, how was this missed? So we sounded out each word together and I let him write the sounds he heard, even if they were misspelled. I encouraged, smiled, high fived -all the way through one sentence. When I said "Look, you did it.", his response was "No, you did." Heart broken, eyes opened.
I could continue that story, but the important part was, I learned a TON about that kid in 10 minutes. I learned that he had a huge confidence issue, I learned that he thought he was not only "bad" but "not smart". I learned that he craved attention and NEEDED the positive. But something I also assumed from that interaction, was that if he was a struggling writer, he was a struggling reader. Maybe he struggled with all academics?
The next day, during math. He did his thing, where he spun on the rug, (we tried alternate seating as well), fooled around and disrupted. So my assumption was- he wasn't paying attention, he didn't understand- he's probably low in math, too. After we finished one of our first number talks, I dismissed the class for recess and he came up to me and asked if he could show me how he solved the problem. I handed him the marker and watched as he wrote and explained his thinking. About 10 seconds in, I stopped him- he looked scared. I said "You are not "in trouble"" (Something I realized I have been saying quite often in this class) "John, this is amazing math thinking, may I video you explaining it and show the principal"? He beamed and went to work- and I WAS FLOORED! I praised his thinking and told him I was so proud- and sent him out to recess. I went back to his desk, took out his Expo marker and I wrote on it.
When we lined up to come in from recess, I asked him if he would like to "teach the class" his way. It was beautiful. I learned a lot more about him, that day.
A few days later, he came up to me again, to help him with his writing, this time we were writing digitally. I asked him if he knew about voice typing and he told me that was cheating. So we had a discussion about it. In that discussion, I said "You are a very smart boy." His eyes were skeptical. Then I said "Do you believe me?"- he shrugged and said "Dunno" and looked down. I said "Has anyone ever told you that?" - he said "No". So I made him look in my eyes and I repeated "You are a very smart boy, and here are some examples....". We repeated that conversation with "You know you are a very kind boy, right?'- I didn't know what else to do- my heart was breaking. So I just grabbed a post-it and wrote "John, you ARE smart. You ARE kind. Love, Ms. Orlando" and told him to stick it somewhere that he could read it often. I found it that afternoon on the front of his desk, where it faced him every day.
Fast forward last week, when I finally started listening to kids read. I fully expected John to be a struggling reader, based on his struggle with writing. And he proved me wrong, again. The kid could read AND he could comprehend. This was an interesting mystery.
Yesterday, he whipped through some math work, so I had him bring his white board and marker to me and I went back to my Kinder/first grade days and had him draw three lines and sound out CVC (three letter) words. He was able to do it, but it took some effort. Then we moved on to four letter words and that was where it broke down. So we did a mini-mini lesson and he said "yeah, it's words like this that confuse me" and I responded "Well, now we know where to start and we will work on this together". *An interesting by product was during that time, another little girl, who also struggles with writing and is new to the language walked over with her white board and marker and asked if she could join. Aha! The start of a skills based small group.
Why am I sharing this story (that actually has many more facets to it)? Because I am so glad that I took the time to get to know this kid and others. He is intelligent and good hearted- he just has many other things blocking the world from seeing it.
Now- can we do this with EVERY child in our care? I wish we could. But I can pretty much tell you what makes each of my 27 kids tick, what they seem to excel at, what they seem to care about, what they seem to struggle with. And we are working on finding things that work for them. As a whole, this class CRAVES attention and they CRAVE and respond to positivity. So that is what we do. They are slowly trusting me, that I am not going to turn on them.
Every day is an up and down for us all in that room...but the "ups" out weigh and the positives are what we talk about, what we put our attention to and what we celebrate. The content is making it's way in and the change in their ability to explain their thinking, talk to each other about the content, collaborate and share is unexplainable.
So when I hear educators say that knowing our kids is not important, that our job is to just teach them and keep them "in line"... I have to remember these stories and believe in my heart, that what I am doing, matters and it works.
Students can not focus or understand the content, if they don't feel safe, cared for and understood. On that, I WILL NOT waver. So is it worth it? For me, and overwhelming he** YES!
Afterward: Thursday, as we were cleaning up to go home, John came up to me and asked "Ms. Orlando, am I smart?". I looked at him, smirked and said "John, you know that I believe you are smart. Go look at that post it I wrote you." And he just beamed.