Metamorphosis in Progress…

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I just want to thank you for reading my blog while it undergoes a metamorphosis… I recently changed the title of my blog, from Mrs B (4th Grade Teacher) to Learning Wholeheartedly. Now I’m in the process of updating my blog with my new colors, logo, header, etc. More on that in a little bit, first, I’d like to provide some background on the name change.

I have loved learning for as long as I can remember. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did not always love learning in the traditional sense. Up until 7th grade I was an average student – maybe slightly above average. I was always in the top class, but never really put much effort into my academics until high school. That being said, I was always interested in “self-help” books (now more preferably labeled personal development books). From a very young age I would browse this section of our public library. I have always been hungry to learn new things – especially things that would help me grow as a person. 

I have also always hungered for human connections. I look back on my days at school and although I did not get along with everyone all the time, I did develop friendships with many different groups of people. I believe I’ve always tried to be authentically me, and live wholeheartedly.  As I get older, and read more books and meet more like-minded people, I feel like I’m developing a better understanding what that means. This is also why I’m 100% content with turning 30 years old this year… because I feel more ME than I’ve ever felt!! I can’t wait to share more about this journey of wholehearted living (and teaching – because it definitely comes out in my teaching too) with you. 

This is another reason why I am so grateful to have made the friends that I have made through periscope, blab, instragram, and teachers pay teachers. One of those friends is Ashley (Ms. Idealistic) from Canada.

Ash is one of the most down to earth persicopers that I have had the privilege of getting to know. She also happens to be a tech and design guru!! She hosts a weekly blab with the iteachtvnetwork called Teaching Tech, every Tuesday at 8pm (EST). Ashley is also one of the most generous and helpful people I’ve met! She designed my logo, my header/banner, and my new signature – and has been SO helpful with my whole “rebranding” – giving me great advice and collaborating with me (which is not easy, since I really struggle with making decisions). If you are on the market for a new logo or just want some design or coding advice – please please check out Ms. Idealistic’s shop here!! She is amazing to work with and very reasonably priced!!

I am so excited for the future of this blog and cannot wait to connect with you more and hopefully collaborate with you! If you’re interested in joining my monthly tech link up – you can sign up for the newsletter here, or read more about it here.

I’d also love to get some feedback on my blog as it continues it’s metamorphosis… What do you think of the name change, the new header, logo, etc?

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How to Change Your Students’ Lives

Isn’t this the big questions all teachers want to know? I know this is why I got into the profession – because we have such an amazing opportunity to shape the future leaders of our world. To help mould young children to become happy, kind, educated, passionate, and driven adults who can make a difference.

As a teacher, I know the feeling of despair when you have one or two (or five, or six) students in your class that you just can’t seem to reach. They’re the ones that keep you up at night, or have you in tears at the end of the day. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we can at least make a difference in the lives of 85% or 90% of the students in our class that year.

But, what if I told you that the GREAT teachers make a difference in 100% of the students lives in their class. I’m not talking about the standard “difference” teachers make by simply doing their jobs – I’m talking about substantial, life changing difference. What they do is not rocket science, and it’s not a secret…

Kim Bearden is one of those GREAT teachers.

If you don’t know who Kim is, I’ll give you a very brief overview – she is the cofounder of, and an ELA teacher at, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is also one of the most self-reflective, self-aware, passionate, whole-hearted people that you will ever get to know. 

You can get to know Kim through periscope (or watch her past broadcasts on katch.me) and through her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

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It is through this book that I have found the “recipe” for changing students’ lives. I think we can mostly agree (I wish I could say all, but I know that there are some nay-sayers) that the Ron Clark Academy is making a difference, and there are many many teachers who dream of recreating that magic in their classrooms and schools around the world. Well, in Crash Course, Kim gives us a very intimate glimpse into what the Ron Clark Academy is all about, and how any teacher willing to put in the work, can recreate that magic.

I’m going to start by giving you a brief review of the book itself, then I’ll share some of the key takeaways that I had while reading. Last, I’ll outline the things that I’m going to do differently to help bring some RCA magic into my classroom and school.

About Crash Course:

The book is organized into 17 short chapters. With topics ranging from creativity and improvisation to faith and generosity. Each of these chapters includes vulnerable stories from Kim’s life. She is very transparent and honest in her writing, and never claims to have all the answers. These stories help the reader not only connect with Kim and her students, they are the backbone of the book – the life lessons her students taught her. They also helped me as a teacher, formulate a more detailed dream for my students. Every chapter ends with a bullet list of the chapter’s important points and homework. The homework lists 2-4 steps you can take to help with that area of your life and work as an educator. They are practical ways for you to reflect on the chapter’s lessons and synthesize what you learned and how you can apply it.

My Biggest Takeaways:

  • The recipe for recreating the magic at RCA: passion, creativity, rigor, and the importance of giving back to the community
  • The teachers at RCA are human… they’ve all been exactly where we are, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve struggled, and they still do
  • The students at RCA are just like my students and your students – Kim shares how new teachers at RCA always seem surprised to learn that the students’ transformation into what we all think of as “Ron Clark Academy students” begins with the teachers
  • The teachers have very very high expectations for their students (and themselves)- and accept nothing but their best efforts. They are also willing to do anything and everything it takes to make sure that every student reaches those expectations. The chapter on expectations was my favorite, and you can hear Kim talk about it here.
  • The school also fosters a culture of creativity, magic, play, and family. Kim writes about how schools today often destroy students’ sense of wonder… isn’t that heartbreaking?
  • We need to teach students in a way that prepares them for the world – they need to learn how to communicate not only their academic understandings, but their insights, their feelings, and their beliefs as people. They also need to learn how to handle the challenges that the real world will bring them – we need to teach students about race and culture and how it “will affect their reality”.
  • To reach all students, we need to take the time to get to know each and every single student. We need to find their gifts, nurture their creativity, and identify their fears. We need to ask them what they love, and then design lessons around those things. We need to sit at their desks and see life from their perspective. We need to start fresh every day – do whatever it takes to get every student excited about learning.
  • The smallest gestures can become the tiny seeds that will one day grow into amazing trees. What you say to students (through words or body language) matters. Taking time to get to know students and their families matters. Taking time to create special moments and memories with (and for) students matters.

Each and every one of these points (and many many more) are elaborated on in the book – with stories to help you understand how important they are and how they can change students’ lives. These points don’t even begin to do the book justice – if any of them resonate with you… do yourself (and your students/teachers) a favor and read the book.

My Personal Action Plan:

  • Develop deeper more meaningful relationships with my students by
    • taking the time to think about how each of them feels in my classroom, at school, at home
    • taking the time to ask them what they love
    • making it clear that I believe in them by holding them to high expectations
    • making each and every one of them feel like they are my favorite student
    • finding their unique gifts and talents
    • being intentional with my comments and compliments
    • finding out what their fears are, and helping them overcome those fears
    • letting students know that every day is a clean slate – when I “fuss” at them, once it’s done, it’s done
  • Create more magic in my classroom by
    • brainstorming ways to make lessons more magical (think classroom transformations, even on a smaller scale – simulations)
    • playing more
  • Teach my students how to support one another by
    • modeling how to encourage others
    • teaching them about other cultures
    • helping them help the community
  • Seek out relationships with people who fill my soul by
    • evaluating current relationships
    • spend more time with people who inspire me
  • Be more grateful by
    • keeping a gratitude journal & writing in it daily
    • letting others know I’m grateful for them
    • praying more

 

Now for some real talk…

I know that this is going to take a great deal of time and effort. Time out of my personal life… time that I will not be paid for. The effort required will be tough to give, because the results are going to take time. I know that if I dedicate myself to this – there will be times that I will want to give up.

I also know that there will be more tears, and many many sleepless nights. Because let’s face it, when you open your heart and make the effort to develop these deep and meaningful relationships with students – you are opening up yourself to hurt and failure. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Some of our students face very difficult lives, and I know that I will learn things that will break my heart, some of them will treat me badly. Also, I’m not always going to be enough. What I can do in my classroom (and out of it) will not always be enough.

But… this is why I became a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher to help students pass a test. I didn’t become a teacher to have fun with students from 8 – 3pm. I became a teacher to change lives – it’s my passion, it’s my calling, and I believe the difficult times and the failures I’m bound to experience are worth it. Because at least I can say I truly tried, I gave it my all.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, what’s the point?

So long 2015…the year I found myself

Reflecting on 2015

 

This year has been such a blessing… It’s definitely one that will go down in the books, along with the year I came to the USA, and the year I got married.

On Tuesday I did a periscope (@bonbrad) challenge, which was started by the always insightful The Whimsical Teacher. I’ll use a similar format for my reflection here.

Things that went well in 2015

Connecting with teachers via Periscope and Twitter

So many things have come from #theperiscopeteachertakeoverof2015. I was able to connect with like-minded teachers from all around the world. Through these teachers’ generosity and support, I’ve realized that I can accomplish great things! I’ve always sat on the sidelines and thought “I don’t have anything worthwhile to offer on tpt” or “anything I write on a blog will never help other teachers” or “the classrooms I’ve seen around here aren’t like THAT..I can’t do that”  or “teachers here don’t do things like that”.

Thanks to connecting with these teachers I now believe in myself and my potential as a teacher and a lifelong learner. I have started to step out of my comfort zone and started pushing myself towards greatness (I still have a very long way to go). But, I have found my tribe!

Now, not only are these teachers providing me with support and self confidence – but they are full of some AMAZING ideas!!! I’m constantly learning from them and being inspired!

Discovering the Ron Clark Academy (RCA)

Ron Clark was Disney teacher of the year ages ago, and appeared on Oprah after that. There was a movie made about him, starring Matthew Perry (it’s a must watch and definitely a tear jerker). He started his own school in downtown Atlanta Georgia – and it is the type of school all teachers DREAM about working at. There is an app and some of the amazing teachers who work there have blogs and are on periscope! Hope King (Elementary Shenanigans) and Kim Bearden (co-founder of RCA) are two of my favorites. This school and Ron’s journey are a huge inspiration to me – to be bold and not hide my passion! When you think of people who think/teach outside of the box — these teachers think/teach outside of this galaxy!!

Finding a balance

It is my third year teaching and my second year as a 4th grade teacher. My first year was pretty stressful on me and my marriage. I spent a lot of late nights at school and said yes to any and all social invitations (when you don’t have any friends (besides your hubby) within thousands of miles, you’ll do anything to connect). My second year I spent very little extra time at school… I was inspired by another teacher to just leave work after work. Two things made this easier to do: I was in a portable, which is scary when it gets dark, and we had planning in the morning, before any instructing – so there was little pressure to work after hours. I still accepted any and all social invitations. This year… I have found a much better balance – I only stay late twice a week at the most, and I still don’t do as much work at home as I did in my first year. I am a much happier teacher this year!!

Things that did not go well in 2015

Blogging

Even though I created this blog over the summer, and promised that I was going to be more present here, I failed miserably! I have not posted once since the school year started – and so many things have been happening in my room!!

Inspiration overload

I have been inspired by so many teachers and have had so many great ideas “coming at me” this summer and at the beginning of the school year, that I think I have been a little frozen. I’ve definitely tried a lot of things and have had great success – but I’ve also not put as much effort into my lesson planning as I should. I think I’ve been trying so many cool things that I started to think “hmmm… you know what, I try my best and work very hard, that’s all I can offer – my best.” But in reality, I have a lot more to offer and I’ve not been trying my absolute best. 

Jack of many trades, master of none

I feel like my love of learning can sometimes be a bad thing. If I don’t channel my energy, I take on way too much. This year I joined the gym, I started (and stopped) running, I started playing around with hand lettering and doodling, I started a tpt store, I tried to start this blog, I set a reading goal (to read 50 books)… I am not good at any of that stuff #yet!! I think if I had focused on one thing – I would have at least mastered it enough to then take on another new adventure. 

People who inspired me this year

  • Amy Harris (She is such a genuine person and has been amazing in terms of welcoming me into her circle of friends. She has also inspired me in so many ways – as a teacher, a learner, and a person.)
  • Hope King (I mentioned her earlier – she is SUCH a passionate teacher who has helped me understand and accept that it is okay to “bring your work home”. She has also changed the way I look at lesson planning…she’s the teacher I want to be when I grow up.)
  • The Whimsical Teacher (I also mentioned her earlier, but Jess is such a unique person and spirit. She has such a kind heart and is so generous and supportive of people. I have learned so much from her with regard to tpt, teaching, and how to be 100% you – no matter what. She is definitely my cup of tea, and I will take a bottomless cup thank you very much!!)
  • Sheila Jane (This woman is a power house. She is support epitomized. She is the biggest teacher cheerleader. I’m not sure how she fits everything she does into her schedule, but she pops up constantly, cheering teachers on and encouraging them relentlessly. She makes me feel like I can make a difference by encouraging other people – one person can make a HUGE difference via social media.)
  • Mr. Chris Wooleyhand (He’s a local principal here and we met at an EdCamp – he insisted **cough** I mean encouraged me to get back into twitter, and I haven’t looked back. Twitter chats have helped me connect and collaborate with both local and distant teachers who may not be on periscope. He’s also super supportive and encouraging – making me feel like I have some insight worth sharing. He even asked me to collaborate on a blog he wrote, which meant a lot to me.)
  • Brenda Schoener (I did not know Brenda well, I only met her a few times – but her legacy is such an inspiration. Again, she proves that one person can make a significant difference in the lives of many people. She passed away a month ago after a long battle with cancer. I got to know her better through the stories her children shared at the memorial as well as the photographs that were shared. I also learned that she had a love for feathers…and I have always loved feathers, but could never really explain why. Now- this love (and all the feathers I’ve collected) will forever be a reminder of this Godly woman and her legacy.)

 

Thanks for joining me as I reflected on 2015… to find out how I plan to learn from my mistakes of 2015 (aka the things that did not go well), you’ll have to tune in on January 2nd. I’ll be linking up with Ashley and Angie for the #2getherwearebetter January blog post.

Before you leave… what is something that went well for you in 2015? Something that did not go well? And who inspired you this year?

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