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.
Whoa... just finished day 16 in third grade and I feel like I have aged 16 years! I am finally forcing myself to come up for air and reflect. I have been wavering on whether to write or not. But as always, I decided to go for it, to be real, because my hope is that it can help someone else...so here goes...
I wrote a personal positive message on each desk to start the day. Then we had a talk. As my principal walked in, I was saying these words "Alright guys, I owe you an apology. Remember how we talked about #failforward moments? Well I had a big one." To which they were all perplexed. I told them that I expected too much from them at the beginning of the school year. That I didn't do my job in teaching them the routines and reminders of how we we act in the classroom. I told them that we were starting "Day 1" over and we were going to focus on the positive in class.
Here is where I want to pause for a second-
We started over.
And it was needed. In Brene' Brown's book Rising Strong she says "You can't skip day 2". In that she means that you can't just brush over the hard stuff, the messy stuff- you have to put in the work. I tried to skip our "Day 2", so to speak. I tried to go from "Hi, we don't know each other" to "Let's get busy and work as a family." Without support for them. #failforward! So rather than keep snowballing into a mess, we stopped and we restarted...and I don't feel guilty. Others may think I'm crazy, because we have "so much curriculum to "cover". but I have to stay true to my belief. #cultureovercurriculum "We need to reach the students,to teach the students."
What these kids (and my principal saw) was humility, humanity and realness. I showed them that there is no "perfect", that we are going to fail and how to use that "failure as feedback" as Dave Burgess, says. How to admit mistake and move forward. Great convos about grit, perseverance and resilience- and they REALLY dug it.
I was a bit taken aback, when they asked what the word "positive" meant, but so glad they asked. We had a really great discussion on the difference between positive statements and behaviors vs. negative ones and how each one makes us feel. We role played saying positive things to each other. We wrote them around the room. We watched a "Kid President" video and they pulled out the "Awesome Quotes" and charted them. And the positive "vibe" has just taken off from there.
I don't believe that they still fully trust me on this... I still hear them say things about themselves being "bad"- or that they "can't do..." to which we have a talk. Sometimes their faces look like I am speaking a foreign language, but I have vowed to be consistent and I can't even wrap my head around on the pay offs, thus far. We still have many struggles, and we will continue- such is life. But every day when they leave- I find those bright spots- and they are usually the "heart spots". I see changes in them. I see empathy, kindness, understanding, beginning of confidence, helpfulness. But I also see them testing it and me. They want to know if I am going to break and go negative on them? The answer is and always will be "NO".
My call to action is this: Be kind to yourself - this is HARD work and we are going to struggle. But it is through that struggle - we learn and grow and so do our students. Take time to reflect and and if you need to do a "restart" of some things... do it. It matters.
New job, new school, new co-workers, new grade, new life- still wrapping my head around it all and so much more...but 8 am- the bell rings and it's on. What has happened over the last 9 school days has been an utter whirlwind and more learning on my part than the students. For me, it has been the school of "#failforward" moments.
You hear that when you leave the classroom, you become disconnected. I knew this and I felt this and I really, really tried my hardest to be in on the ground floor as much as possible. But it's not the same. AT ALL. I tried to be empathetic to those in which I served, but this is a HUGE #knowbetterdobetter moment. I apologize to ANY teacher to whom I may have said the wrong things, assumed incorrectly or offended in my hopes to support you over the last four years. I believe this is one of the main reasons that I am back in the classroom- this was a lesson that I needed to learn.
On day 1, I was just proud that I remembered to put in the attendance (BUT there were three days I didn't). I was happy to see 28 adorable 7 and 8 year olds- knowing we would soon be family. Things were rolling- but definitely bumpy. *One of my students tried to color our Board Member's Suit (thank goodness he authentically laughed it off). Somehow, we made it to lunch! I looked at the white board where I wrote down the bell schedule (for myself) and we were right on track. We walk out and all of my students start grumbling. They are looking at the first and second graders eating on the lawn and are trying to convince me that this was NOT their lunch time. Well- I didn't have the schedule electronically, so we turned around and went back in the classroom. I searched through my emails for the schedule that was sent to me- Phew- I did have the correct time. They just aren't used to it as we are the only third grade class- it was changed. So- I apologized for second guessing and making them a tad late for lunch. We talked about #failforward (quickly) and we headed out to lunch. I heard "It's ok, Ms. Orlando- you are a new teacher.". And just like that- he was right.
Although I had taught 14 years- these four years out of the classroom have reverted me back to a new teacher.
This is a "reset"- and this is difficult. I feel like I am armed with so much more than before, yet I also feel like I somewhat knew what I was doing before. But today- after 9 days with my third grades- I am as wobbly and unsure as ever. My ideas and philosophies on education are being challenged daily, by me.
What I know now, after spending this time with my class- I went too far, too fast. Think about it:
-They have been out of school for a few months
-This is the first time they have all been together (as I am the only third grade)
-They are only 7/8/9 year olds
-They have NEVER seen me before- that's scary
-From their feedback (both observational and actual) I am doing things differently than they are used to- scary
-I don't have a "punishment/consequence" system (purposefully)- they are having to make hard choices
-We have ONE rule (thank you Jon Corippo) - and it has been working!
And my personality, I have learned, is to just "cannon ball in" like my friend Tara Martin says. But that is not fair to these kiddos. That is a lot of shock to their system.
Within all of this, I am having this terrible inner struggle with the fact that I present on all of these different pedagogical ideas, culture building strategies and even administrative concepts but I feel I am failing with my own students. THEN- I struggle with the fact that I also "preach" #riskforward and #failforward.
THAT is why I haven't written. THAT is why I have been more quiet. THAT is why I have done a ton of introspection and I keep coming back to the same thing.
It's not about me...it can't be about me...it is about the kids...always.
And it's about finding those small wins. It's about connecting to the boys that gave you the biggest run for your money on week 1. It is the random hug and thank you from these guys that act so "cool" in front of their peers. It's the look of "I CAN do it" when you hand a student some counters and show how to make different equations for the same number. It's the student who comes running back in, after school is out- to ask if he can take one of your books home. THESE are the things I need to reflect on. THESE are the things to hold on to. THESE are the things to build up from. I talk all about #cultureovercurriculum and I am need to stay true to it.
So this weekend is a time to reflect, reconsider, replan and reset. These kiddos deserve the best of me and I can't in my heart bring anything less.
I am about to embark on a fresh new adventure. It probably shouldn't seem new, yet it is. As I have been out of the classroom for four years...going back in is an all new ball game. So there are many unknowns, but one thing I know for sure is this...
So here we are...crunch time. I will be in front of approximately 30 third graders in a few short days. And although I have spent a lot of time with students in other teachers' classrooms (playing "eduauntie")- It has been many years since I have had the awesome responsibility of my own class. I know it will be very different than the role I have played in the last four years. No more coming in like a tornado, trying new things, getting students all excited and then passing them back to their teacher = "eduauntie". NOW, I get to do that and keep them, full time!
As I scramble to get a new room ready for opening day, there is a lot of reflection (shocking). Most of it is wrapped around culture. I believe that how we set this up, is the single most important thing we can do for our students. It is a great responsibility, one that I do not take lightly.
We set the tone, we set the stage, we make or break how a student feels- while in our care and beyond. We often don't realize our impact or our reach, but we have it and we must act accordingly.
At this time of year, classroom posts are flying all over social media. There was one particular post that I just couldn't shake. When I sent a picture of this to a few of my edu-friends, I didn't even need to write anything, they knew my intent. I decided to take to social media with this same idea. The picture on the left is the one that haunted me, so I chose to parallel it to another picture that I had seen floating around. Both had similar attributes, but to me, they had totally different meanings.
I was incredibly surprised by the traffic that this post received. 208 "likes" (for me, that's unheard of). But beyond the likes, it was the reactions that really had me perplexed. People continuously commented about how great THESE were. How they wanted to replicate them. Every time someone said that, I responded the same way. "Which one?"- not many responses were received. It appeared that my intent was not as clear as when I had sent it to my friends. This just reminded me that not everyone believes the way I do. It was an interesting, unintended experiment. So I took to social media again, and tried to explain my intent...but as you will see, the number of likes, reactions and responses were lacking. This was interesting to me...
But what was happening behind the scenes was amazing! I was receiving texts and direct messages from others who were really disturbed by the same thing that I was. Great conversations were happening about intent, culture and KIDS. THAT is what I was hoping to spark. THAT is why I am choosing to write about this today. I would like to explain the reason behind my posts.
I wanted us to have a chance to reflect (pun intended) on the message that we are sending to our students. I believe that our job as teachers, is to support, encourage and help kids grow. I don't believe that education should be a "gotcha" game- where blame is placed on the students. Yes, they absolutely have some responsibility in their learning (NOT about the grade)- but as the adults, the trained leaders in the room, I believe we have a larger responsibility TO them. THAT is why the picture on the left bothered me so.
My hope was to stir conversation, stir reflection and stir some action.
When students enter my room on Wednesday, it is going to look pretty "bare bones". One of the reasons is because I literally donated all of my classroom things a month before I knew I would be back in the classroom. BUT, the more important reason is - this is intentional. I want our classroom to be just that - OUR classroom - and I will explain this to both students and their families.
I am taking a note from my pal, Brent Coley's book- I intend on sending a video tour of the classroom to families the night before the first day of school (IF I have emails- or maybe a QR code at my door the night class lists are posted - still unknown). But I want to take it one step further, since we have the capabilities. I plan on sending the video via Flipgrid. This way students and families can respond back. I can get to know them, before they enter OUR room the next morning. I recorded a "practice" video this morning and wanted to share it, in case anyone would like to do similar. *And anyone that knows me, knows how much I don't like being on camera- so I am taking a risk for you all :). The real video will be filmed from inside the room and will include a tour- showing my blank bulletin boards - prepped for student creation.
My call to action is this: Try to put yourself in your students' shoes as they enter their classroom. What do you want them to see? How do you want them to feel? What is the culture you wish to create? #intentmatters
Have a great 2018-2019 doing great things for kids!!
Two weeks ago, I interviewed for a job that I would have loved. One where I could use my skills and my passions to support others. I loved the people, I loved the vision and I actually got my hopes up that this could be IT. But then, it wasn't. They moved two on to the second interviews, and I was number three. This seems to be the story of my life. "Always a "bridesmaid" never a bride.".
Because of this, I went on a brief trip down the rabbit hole. When I dug myself out, I had to decide if I was going to attend a conference for which I was not presenting NOR was I even registered. My gut instinct was to just stay home - I didn't want to be around people, people didn't need to be around me. I honestly hadn't decided to go until about an hour before I hopped in the car.
I went with the intent to just stay to myself and learn from others. The reality finally set in that I was going back into the classroom, and I decided to be a learner with that lens. Well... here is the reflection I wrote upon my return...
Yes - I am now armed with some amazing activities and ideas to use with students and adults, but there was so much more. I realized that I was meant to crash this party, there was a reason that I was there. And I didn't realize it until I had time on the beach to reflect. And I just can't shake it...
I believe that there were two reasons that I ended up where I was:
1) To be a support to someone that I had yet to know.
2) To meet someone who I had unknowingly supported.
These two instances still have my mind spinning as I think about the impact we all have. We go though life, just doing the best we can, and may not even realize that what we do, who we are, how we are - affects others. I talk about this "ripple effect" that occurs, that we will probably never even know the lives in which we touch. I see this in others, I share their reach and impact with them- but I never think about it for myself. Why? Because to me that seems selfish- but is it? This is one of my biggest struggles. When I reflect -it is about me- in my mind - focusing on me is selfish. But if we aren't reflecting and assessing ourselves, how can we grow and support others? I will just leave that one out there, as I don't have the answer.
So upon that above reflection, I am also coming to terms with the fact that the path that I wanted to be on, is not the one that I am meant to be on. I had no intention, no plans, no idea that I would be heading back into the classroom. Because this was not even on my radar, not even in my scope- it has been a difficult few months of transition. I'm not going to lie, there has been plenty of denial.
Many have offered words of comfort, shared their own stories of paths detoured and reassurances that this bend in the road was for a reason. I have to believe in that. Just like I now believe I was meant to roll into that conference this week- I have to believe that I am exactly where I am meant to be.
Many have said that there are 30 (or whatever number I get) students who need ME. They share, that is the reason I am being placed in front of them. But then, by wise friend, Jon Eick said this to me, and it rocked my world: "I don't believe that you are being placed there because 30 kids need you. Most of those kids would be just fine without you. But I believe that there is ONE kid that needs you. You are there for THAT kid" And with that, through my tears- it clicked.
I need to get over myself. I need to get out of myself. I need to get refocused on my purpose. I am not in any of this for me-- that no matter my job -- my work is always the same- it is my "why"- I wrote it out 5 years ago and it still holds true today "One who inspires and encourages others". I have to stay true to that, no matter if I'm working with adults or children- that is my mission.
I was talking to my friend, Brandon Blom, as I was working though this and he quoted something back that I didn't even realize I said...but I need to keep this quote somewhere that I can see it, daily:
So time for me to "suck it up, buttercup" and put all of my focus and energy into being that for my students- being that for my colleagues, my friends and strangers alike. It doesn't matter the platform, the "stage"- it is about others.
So my call to action is this: As we move into the new school year- find your purpose, find your why. Reflect often and reflect hard. Always come back to it and realign, readjust- but stay true to you.
I have learned that a lot of what we deal with; what we go through and how we go through it, depends on OUR perspective. We can choose which lens we want to look and work through. Often times, my personal go to is to choose the negative lens, the darkened lens. The one that leads me down the wrong path- so here I am today - sharing part of the process I am working through in real time. This is unlike anything I have "published", but it is raw, it is real and it is me.
It has lead me to rethink this blog site, to upgrade the name. As to the future content, that is still unknown and probably always will be as I just write in real time and I always right my truths.
My hope as always, is that at least one person can connect to my writing and it is of some sort of support for wherever they are on their journey.
Thank you for joining me on mine.