Friday, August 29, 2014

Everyday Heroes

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?" ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

What is a hero
Do they wear a uniform? 
Do they save lives? 
Are they well known by everyone?

These are some of the questions we discussed in the last couple of weeks in my 4th grade classroom. Our Heroes reading unit allows us to explore the concept of heroes by reading and learning about heroes of the past as well as everyday heroes. It also gives us the opportunity to realize that heroes can come in many shapes and forms ..... even children like us.

Today that became a reality.

For the last several years, the 4th grade classes have taken our first annual field trip to Meals from the Heartland. It is an event held each August at HyVee Hall in Des Moines, Iowa. The non-profit organization packages meals that are given to the hungry - not only locally but across our country and to countries all over the world.

Hairnets, gloves, and a LOT of smiles = children making a difference

The field trip is a way for us to have a great team-building activity as a class as well as a common experience doing something for others and making a difference in their lives.

You might think that nine year-olds would complain about repeating a task over and over again while standing in one place for two straight hours. But you would be wrong -- I didn't hear a single complaint today. We cheered when completing a full box of bags, had a few little dance breaks while listening to the music overhead, and helped each other by switching tasks or stepping in when someone needed assistance with their task. It was a great learning opportunity and an "ideal classroom" experience.

These were some of the comments I overheard today from my students:

"This is so fun!"

"Why are we only here for two hours? I wish we could stay longer."

"We are helping so many people."

"I want to come back with my family."

"Come on, guys, let's go faster - we can fill more boxes!"

"I'll help you carry the box."

"We are like heroes today."

I wish I could take the smiles, the positive attitudes, and helpful hearts that I witnessed today and bottle them up for those days that we feel less than our best. 

We are so blessed. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we truly can be everyday heroes for others -- even if there are no thank-you's and we never meet the people who receive these meals and consider us heroes.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Beginnings

Each school year is an opportunity for a new beginning.

A chance to meet new students.

A chance to try new ideas.

A chance to inspire the next generation.

I've had many "first days of school" and this one was super! Super students, super fun ideas, and a staff of superhero teachers that are all committed to providing a chance for students to learn and discover their "superpowers."

Staff T-shirts ~ The "D" is for the name of our school
A new beginning creates feelings of excitement. My students were really excited to get a baggie of play dough and form it into a symbol of something to represent themselves or their interests. It was a great way to start off the year with a fun, hands-on activity that allowed us to learn about each other.

Homemade play dough creations
This school year brings a new beginning in terms of technology. Our 4th grade classes are 1:1 with Chromebooks this year. We are excited about the different ways we can use these devices to show our learning, tell our stories, and connect with other students beyond our classroom walls.

Students learned about a hero and entered their responses on Socrative.

We finished our week of new beginnings by celebrating the arrival of a brand-new box of books. I've told my students a little bit about the project we're going to be starting soon, and they were happy to help me open up the box and preview the books! The books are for a Kindness project we'll be doing with the story, "Lead with your Heart" and its author, Jena Ball. The set of books were a part of a Donors Choose project and were generously paid for by two donors: a former 4th grade student's parent, and a current colleague's relative. We're so excited to read this year and participate in some difference-making projects.

My students opened the box of "Lead with your Heart" books
 that arrived on Friday from Donors Choose.
I hope this year will be full of new beginnings, new ideas, and new inspirational ways to meet student needs. Not just on the first day and first week, but throughout the year.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Five Things I Learned This Summer

To learn is to grow and to move forward with new experiences that shape your life. 

This summer I learned and experienced many things that helped me grow. I definitely look forward to the official start to school staff inservice this week and the first student day next week. Here are 5 concepts that I learned more about this summer.

1. BElieve IN YOUrself
          It can be easy to doubt yourself when it comes to your teaching skills, depth of knowledge, expertise in certain subjects, accuracy of solving problems, and ability to inspire others. However, if you don't believe in yourself first, it will be hard to teach others to believe the best in themselves.
          This summer I learned a lot about myself, where I've been, and what I would still like to do personally, and professionally.

Wooden letters highlighting "BE YOU" that I added to my
classroom wall yesterday.
2.  Learning is SOCIAL
          In an earlier blog post I explained how learning for students is social and collaborative. This summer, I've learned the same for myself. I learn best from others and enjoy sharing what I've learned by passing it on. Yes, I'm fully capable of learning things myself and doing things independently. But, the social aspect of learning and interacting makes the concepts even more memorable.

3.  Having a PLN is AMAZING.
          Building a PLN (as in Personalized Learning Network, or professional/personal) is something new to me. Being connected with educators from my own state as well as many more from all over the country and around the world gives me a multitude of perspectives, opinions, and collective knowledge that I can use to help make me an even better educator. I've collected a great deal of resources through Twitter connections, blogs, articles, and projects. 
          I've even been encouraged to start my own blog this summer and it has helped me to share my story and my thoughts. It's been exciting as well to start meeting a few of my online PLN friends face to face. Now, it's my hope to take this concept back to school with me to strengthen the relationships already in place.

4.  Leading is SERVING.
          In any position of leadership, serving others is important. The hard work and the important work is usually done behind the scenes. It may not be recognized, rewarded, or realized but is important nonetheless. This summer, I've discovered that I'm the type of leader that is a servant, giver, and empathetic listener. I'm inclined to help others and support them while staying as positive as possible. 
          While being a listener often means that I tend to be quiet at first, it doesn't mean that I don't have strong opinions about what I feel is right, realistic, and essential in helping students learn. I often ask myself, "How can I help?" and "What can I do to make a difference?"

5.  I don't want to go BACK to SCHOOL.
          Wait? I thought you just mentioned you're a positive person? YES, and that's why I'm stealing a phrase from an amazing educator I had the opportunity to meet this summer and say that I'm looking "FORWARD to school" this year. I don't want to go "BACK" to old habits, "BACK" to negative thinking, or "BACK" to regret. "Positive Change" is a key theme in what I'm wanting to do this year. My team is looking forward to doing some new things, dropping some old things, and having a great year.

Even though I may just have one more day of "summer" I have learned a lot and look forward to the great things that are going to happen inside and outside my classroom walls. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Motivational Monday - IGNITE

What does it take to IGNITE the motivation within?

Sometimes just a little *SPARK*

A song on the radio that touches your heart.

A picture you find that reminds you of a happy memory.

An idea that pops into your head in the middle of the night. 

An note, text, or call from a friend.

If you have ever attended a candlelight service you have experienced the way that one spark of a flame, passed from person to person, can light an entire room. The power of the light it isn't necessarily held only by the person who lights the match, but by every individual in the path of the flame.

Where are you at along the path?

1) Lighting the match:
     ~ Do you have creative ideas that are just starting to spark? Do you trust yourself to pass it on?

2) Passing it on down the row:
     ~ Do you pass on the knowledge that you receive to others, or do you stand in the light by yourself?

3) Extinguishing the light:
     ~ Do you turn your back on the ideas others try to give you? Do you turn off the light from others?

LIGHT is knowledge. LIGHT is truth. LIGHT is creativity, passion, and motivation.

The fire within is what causes us to take action - to do something with the idea that made a spark in our heart. 

Take an idea, pass it on, and encourage others to do the same. A room full of lights is more motivating than a single lit candle with time running out. If you're holding the candle and it suddenly goes out, seek out the light that others are holding - and thank them for passing it on.

I'm participating in a Motivational Monday "linky party" hosted by Jennifer Hogan at "The Compelled Educator" blog. Click on the link below to read other motivating blogs today ~