Kindness Coin

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Ben's Bells Kindness CoinAt some point last year at a Google Innovator event I was given one of these. I liked the idea of passing along a note to recognize kindness in others.

I recently ran across it again and incorporated it into my classroom. I introduced the idea to my students telling them that when they saw someone being kind, it could be passed along to that person.

Fortunately, my students have really taken to the idea. Each day I see this being placed on someone’s desk. I love that my students do it without making a big deal about it. At one point it was missing for a few days. One of the students asked where it was and what happened to it. I reminded them to keep it going and it showed back up later that day.

A little kindness going a long way!

Size Matters

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Yesterday, Friday, I had 5 students absent. When everyone is present, we have 26 students in our class. They are an awesome group of kiddos. I’m really enjoying them, but when I had 21 yesterday in class, it was so nice!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let me explain. First of all, it had nothing to do with which students were absent. It had everything to do with the number of students physically present. I know 26 isn’t a bad number to have (last year I had 31 – THAT was too many). However, 21 students made it so much easier to squash undesired behaviors before the student had a chance to fully commit to the behavior. It allowed me to target individual needs more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, we had some name calling and general playing around but it was easier to manage.

So when school officials, politicians, or policymakers say that handling 31 is the same as handling 21, they clearly have either never been in the classroom (as a teacher) or have been out of it for far too long. There is a difference. I felt so much more productive and impactful than I have in a long time. I felt as if I really was making a difference and reaching all students.

If you are in a position to make a difference in your community, I urge you to do so. Go to school board meetings or talk to teachers. Because in the end, size really does matter!

And yes, I will be happy to see all 26 of them Monday morning!

Stop Peddling Your Product

Warning: this is going to be a bit ranty.

Dear Everyone,

I am a teacher. Maybe you have seen in the news lately that many fellow educators across the nation are protesting. One item on the protest list is a living wage. Ya know, pay us what we are actually worth. Treat us like the professionals that we are – that would be another item on the list. And this is where I’m going to focus: treat me like a professional. Stop allowing merchants to peddle their product during my workday.

pexels-photo-823301.jpegTo the merchants – be they insurance, savings plans, ‘bookman’, or whoever – STOP PEDDLING YOUR PRODUCTS TO ME! Now, some of them I can choose to ignore. If I don’t want the cutesy items the ‘bookman’ is selling I don’t buy it. If the insurance man is in my lounge, I don’t have to engage in conversations with him. However, I ask do you go to doctors’ offices and ask to sit in their break room to sell life insurance? Do you go to other local businesses to talk about the great supplemental insurance you can provide? Look, I get it. You need to make a living. You share your knowledge with us and that’s fine, but there must be a better way than exploiting a teacher’s kind nature.

To the districts – STOP ALLOWING THESE PEOPLE TO PEDDLE THEIR PRODUCT ON ME DURING SCHOOL HOURS! This was never more apparent than this past week. Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. For the most part, it was awesome! Our PTO treated us like RockStars! Thank you, PTO! Then there was our mandatory staff meeting. The one with an insurance person trying to sell me supplemental insurance. Yes, you read that right, during Teacher Appreciation Week I had a MANDATORY sales pitch to attend. Really? Okay, there was one moment worth remembering the sales pitch. That moment where the person openly stated that he/she has your back. If your doctor won’t write that doctor’s note for your insurance, no problem “I will…”.

Yeah, I’m still a little irked by the whole situation. But knowing that someone is willing to write fake doctor’s notes for me made it a little bit better.

Countdown

pexels-photo-280264.jpegThe end of the school year is upon us. Today someone pointed out that we only have four more weeks of school. That’s not a lot of time. I know many teachers, and students, are in full ‘countdown mode’. Meaning, they are counting down the days until summer. I can’t fault them. The idea of a long vacation sounds wonderful. Time to do all the things that I’ve been putting off: steam cleaning the carpets, revamping lessons, relaxing, training ‘bat dog’ (aka Goldilocks, the 4-month-old puppy). Except, I don’t countdown. I used to, but I don’t anymore.

A few years ago I read a post (I can’t remember who wrote it) that changed my viewpoint. Basically, counting down sends the wrong message to the kids: learning isn’t that important. Learning is exciting and we should want it to continue. I am paraphrasing, but that was the message. I originally agreed, but have since changed my thoughts slightly.

While counting down and sending the message, “I can’t wait to get out of here” is what got me to change my thinking it’s not how I think now. For me, this time of year is bittersweet. I know what makes my kids tick. I know what will set them off. I know what to look for in others. I KNOW my kids. We are a family. We operate like a well-oiled machine. And now, I have to say good-bye. I don’t want to. I want to continue learning and growing with them.

Today I had a student upset about a personal problem. The student confided in another student. It warmed my heart to see the other student being compassionate and a good friend. We are a family and our family will be splitting up in a month.

It took us a long time to get to this point: us being a family. This is why I don’t do countdowns. I want to give it my all until the last day. I want to keep our family moving forward.

And next year I will start fresh. I will cultivate a new family. I will reflect on my new family in one year. I will be sad that we will soon go in different directions, but I will also marvel at their growth.

What the Tests Don’t Show

I have a student this year that I am in awe of. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a true testament to growth-mindset. She is my go-to person for most tech questions. She is the rare 5th-grader who uses technology in meaningful ways in her spare time. My student, L, is a role model to both students and adults.

pexels-photo-733856.jpegYes, I realize I’m waxing on about L and here’s why. L has run our school’s daily news all year – which is a news broadcast. She films, edits, and most recently, been in front of the camera. When I’m having issues with a computer/tablet she’s the first person I consult and she usually has the solution. She uses her phone as if it were a mini computer: downloading Google Classroom, working on assignments at home, using Raz-Kids, and other programs to help her succeed. She has helped her family to download and set up educational apps (on their phones) to help them be connected to Class Dojo and learn a new language. She ‘texts’ me via Google Hangouts (her school account) to ask school-related questions or just tell me that she’ll be out the next day.

I’m sure you’re thinking that’s impressive for a 5th-grader, but not swoon-worthy. THIS is where her story begins to show how amazing she is. If we only look at her statistics – test scores, socioeconomic status, home language, etc – we would miss everything!

L is a second (maybe third) language learner. Her family speaks a dialect from the Oaxaca region in Mexico and Spanish. She qualifies for free/reduced lunch.  She was hit by a car last year while riding her bike (no helmet) and still suffers from some brain swelling which has impacted her memory, vision (not drastically), and headaches. She continues to go to the doctor for her injuries. L has an IEP for learning differences. The IEP was in place before the accident. See, you’re impressed now, aren’t you?

So, while some tests can help guide us, they don’t measure the most important things about our students. They don’t tell their stories and it’s those stories that truly help us connect with our students and serve their needs. Without the personal relationships we build with our students, how could we ever build them up? How could we see their potential and set them on a path to success? How could we do our jobs? If only the test-crazy people would understand that a child is so much more than a silly test.

GCI Energizer

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an Energizer event for Google Innovators. And it was energizing!

Roughly 60 innovators were welcomed to the Google Campus to learn, grow, and become energized! Most importantly, we were able to connect with colleagues we haven’t seen in a while, have only met online, or connect for the first time here. I’ve talked about how I need my tribe. These are my people. They all do amazing things in their classrooms/districts.

I’m still processing all that happened and reflecting on how fortunate I am to be apart of this amazing group. Thank you to Google and Innovators for a great time!

My Dad: Life-Long Learner

My dad will soon be celebrating his 66th birthday. He is a life-long learner. Within the past year, he ditched his flip phone for a ‘smartphone’. It was bad! He hated it at first then got to know it and like it. I hated that phone! He couldn’t send or receive photos with his plan, but he had voice typing. It was awful. So his texts became a decoding game I had to play. He enjoyed that aspect.

Then, came the most recent ‘smartphone’. Sooooo much better! His plan allowed him to voice text more accurately, send and receive photos, and best of all, it was Google based! Since purchasing the phone and 5 Gigs of data (monthly), he has downloaded countless apps, initiated a Google Hangout (although he has no idea how he did it), viewed a shared photo album (Google Photos) of Ireland I sent him, signed up for Uber (even though he won’t use it “I don’t get drunk at bars, what do I need it for?”), and countless other things I have no idea about, yet.

18268201_403501643363221_1980745947158834116_nMost recently I received a text telling me that he ‘enrolled’ in Instagram. Yes, he did this without knowing what it was, how it worked, or why he would even need/want it. Then, 24 hours later he decided that he didn’t have the ‘brain of a teenager’ and Instagram wasn’t for him. Ironically 72 hours after signing up, he was back to looking at my photos and liking a few.

All this got me thinking. How is it that a retired man just jumps into technology and yet so many teachers are still afraid or claim it’s not for them? Really, it’s not for my dad either, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Clearly, my father has a growth mindset. And if I said as much to him, he’d look at me like I was crazy. But, he’s not afraid to try and fail. He’s not afraid to ask questions. He’s okay with playing around to see what happens – thus the Google Hangout that one day.

So my point to all this is; if a retired, soon to be 66-year-old, is unafraid of new technology, we can all try something new. And don’t worry, I’m headed back home this summer to teach him a bit more about his phone and set him straight on his email, which is Gmail.

Finally, because my dad inspires and amuses me, I started a Facebook Page, Texts From My Father. If you’d like to ‘follow’ him on Instagram he can be found @garynowakowski. We’re still working on his selfie taking skills. We can no longer see both arms holding the phone! So that’s progress!

Go forth and experiment, be unafraid, and play!