Education According to Hamilton: Helpless

Education According to Hamilton Room Where It Happens (1)

This song is my jam! “Helpless” is the one song on the entire Hamilton the Musical soundtrack that I can quite literally listen to again and again without getting tired of it. I’m singing it at the top of my lungs on repeat number two and still going strong on repeat number ten! My own daughters know almost every word of this one, too. Check it out here (or below).

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If this is the first time you’ve heard “Helpless”, you may be wondering how in the world this is related to education. Some of it may be a stretch, but it’s my fave and we’re going to make it work! Ha!

Everybody’s dancin’ and the band’s top volume

With some of the students that have been hardest to reach, I finally broke through with music. In fact, there was one particular student of mine last year who barely said a word all year. One of the first conversations we had was after he shared that “Guns and Ships” was his favorite Hamilton song. I had the “clean” version of the soundtrack playing – which still requires a quick song change every now and again – and he just randomly mentioned this little tidbit about himself to me. I had him. After that, we had several conversations, but that was my “in” with him. Is the class (or is it just you) having a rough day? Find some grade-level appropriate music, crank it up, and take a little dance break! Dance with them! Don’t be afraid to look silly; in fact, the sillier, the better!

I’m about to change your life.

Education has the power to change lives. Why do you think slave owners didn’t want their slaves to be able to read and write? Education is empowering! If the slaves weren’t literate, the slave owners had an advantage. This is why many slaves learned to read and write on their own, or by being secretly taught by others. Having an education provides a level of independence that one will struggle to find otherwise. I remind my students of this independence when I see their work ethic diminish at school. We chat about what’s going on, usually a less-than-optimal situation at home, and then talk about how education can get them out of that situation and possibly provide them with the means to care for themselves and their future family. Every morning we could say, “I’m about to change your life,” to our students… By all means, lead the way.

If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it.

So that’s a bit extra in this discussion about education, but think of all the things in education that are a bit more difficult to do. It’s easier to teach to the average student and hope everyone else “gets” it. It’s easier to run a worksheet than to create an experience. It’s easier to maintain status quo than to put in the work to be exceptional. But you know what? Going above and beyond, teaching each individual student, creating experiences, putting in the work to be exceptional… it’s worth it. Every time. It’s worth it.

There’s nothing that your mind can’t do.

We have to believe this about our students. If we don’t believe that our students can achieve success, there’s no point in going any further. Bobby’s success may look different from Tamilia’s success, but they can both be success stories. Angel’s success might appear more like stereotypical “success” than Mychel’s success… but every success should be celebrated and we must believe that every student can reach their own success. Imagine what our classrooms would look like if we truly believed “there’s nothing that your mind can’t do” about every student… yes, even that kid.

We’ll figure it out.

I love, and I truly mean… I love when a student asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to immediately. That means we get to figure it out together. That’s one of my favorite things about the Friday afternoon game club that I facilitate. There are many games that none of us know how to play, but we figure it out together. It allows me the freedom to be a little less teacher and a little more student… try it sometime. Let your guard down and let the students lead. Learn from them. (Hey! Hamilton says it’s okay!)

What’s your educational takeaways from “Helpless”? I’d love to hear your connections! Reply below or comment on Twitter!

#DBCBookBlogs: Drawn to Teach

When I’m reading a book, I take it everywhere I go. Several folks have asked how I read books so quickly (especially during #DBC50Summer). This is how. The book is always with me, so if I have a spare moment or two, I grab it and read another page. Naturally, I kept Drawn to Teach by Josh Stumpenhorst with me and it got quite a bit of attention everywhere I went! I noticed that the reactions ranged widely based on the age of those giving the reaction. Students were pumped to see me reading it while adults gave me odd looks. Curious about why? Check out the cover!

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Check out the inside of the book in this Twitter post from Dave Burgess.

Isn’t it incredible? Trevor Guthke, the artist who created the amazing graphic novel illustrations knocked it out of the water! This awesome book is brought to readers from the IMpress label of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

What Dave doesn’t tell you is the graphic novel portion is hilarious! Josh’s humor is infused throughout and I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book!

 

What’s more: the messages contained within the book are spot on! Josh shares his heart when talking about relationships, what really matters in education (hint: it’s not the test scores), motivation, innovation, technology, and reflection.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • “If you are going to ask for feedback, you must act on it.”
  • “…Gold stars and candy will only get us so far.”
  • “If the kids have a positive learning experience, the data will take care of itself.”
  • “Joy has value and we should encourage more of it”
  • “Learning is not a competition with others, but with yourself.”
  • “Students are motivated when they have some level of choice and agency over their learning.”

I believe my absolute favorite quote from the entire book comes from the section that allowed me to relive my time in #DBC50Summer with The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. Within the “Innovation” chapter, you’ll find this gem!

“Students who are not allowed to fail at an early age don’t develop the coping skills needed to navigate the bigger and more consequential failures inevitable later in life.” ~Josh Stumpenhorst

Mic. Drop.

Implementation

So… if you’ve been with me for long in these blogs, you know that many times my implementations are not as obvious as trying an idea straight from suggestions in the book. That’s the case here, as well. I already have a rather large collection of graphic novels in our media center, and students check them out all the time! Their understanding of the nuances of reading graphic novels is impressive, and I want to give them the opportunity to take their ability to read a graphic novel a step further. We’re talking consumption to creation!

Here are some awesome graphic novel/comic creators available for free (or with limited features for free) online!

You can also use sites like Canva, Google Drawings, and even use Google Slides in tile view.

I can’t wait to see what my students will create to show their mastery throughout the year using these sites. I’m so pumped to share these with the teachers I serve so they can use them as another option for students! I’m excited to see how my students will react after seeing their reactions to this book. I think they’re going to love it!

Be sure to connect with Josh on Twitter and check out his website here. You can join the conversation using #Drawn2Teach on Twitter! Get a free preview of Drawn to Teach by scrolling to the bottom of this page! You’ll see where you can purchase the book there as well! Because you’re going to want to do just that after you see for yourself how cool this book is! Enjoy!

#DBCBookBlogs: Teach Me, Teacher

May 17, 1995… it’s a day I will never forget. That’s the day my mom and dad separated. They had been married for 12 years, 11 months, and 5 days. I was almost 10 years old. The divorce was finalized a little over a year later. It was not pretty. Nothing about the divorce was pleasant. Nothing was amicable. I love both my mom and my dad so very much, but it was hell growing up with them despising each other. They are polar opposites in almost every way and sometimes I wonder how in the world they made it as long as they did. My house was full of fighting as I grew up. There are so many stories I could share, and so many stories in which I don’t know the full story, and even more stories that I have done everything I can to push completely out of my mind. I won’t share any specifics from that time period because one day my daughters may read this and I want them to always know their grandparents as they are now.

When my mom remarried a couple years after the divorce, I think I remember being excited. I was her “maid of honor” and I remember wearing a burgundy lace dress. My mom looked stunning and oh-so-happy. Not long before I left for college, my mom and stepdad got into a fight. I stepped in to protect my mom and he pushed me hard enough that I went through a wall. When they separated and I testified in court against him, he swore up and down that he never put a hand on me. Their divorce was finalized soon after. He still works in a neighboring town. Seeing him makes my skin crawl. I try not to “hate” others, but I certainly still harbor ill will toward him. I know that forgiveness would likely free me from this pit in my stomach when I see or think of him, but that forgiveness for an act from 16 years ago is not coming easily.

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Stories like these, and so many more, were what I recalled when I read Teach Me, Teacher by Jacob Chastain. Reading Jacob’s stories brought back suppressed memories of my childhood. I would read a page or two and have to stop reading while I confronted some of those memories head on. Some of the memories I tried to shove back where they came from, locking them away and hoping to never remember them again. There is nothing quite like the guilt of loving both parents and feeling like you’re letting one down because you show the other love.

Both of my parents have their own version of the truth about various incidents and I will never know which pieces of both stories are the actual truth. Because they see it through different lenses, both versions are skewed (although both would say that their version is the gospel truth, and to them, it is). Even to this day, I struggle when both of my parents are in the same room (or even the same town). My younger brother (he’s nearly 30 now) handles this much better than I do. I wish I could be more like him. I have a family picture of the four of us from the early-mid 90s. The only other picture I have with both of my parents and my younger brother was from my brother’s wedding 3 years ago. Imagine that… I waited 20 years to have that picture. I cherish it.

Like Jacob, I learned a lot of life lessons that taught me to be a better teacher. In fact, they taught me to be a better person. I’m more empathetic. Like Jacob, I dove into books. My preference, however, was realistic fiction because I could imagine myself living the lives of the characters in the book rather than my own. Jacob’s story is so powerful. The way he transfers the lessons he learned from his own horrible experiences into our roles as educators is exceptional. His vulnerability touches my heart. He speaks about being the ‘camera’ in our classrooms, picking up on the subtleties that other might miss. I have watched my own home videos and they hurt so bad to watch. I can hear the spiteful murmurs in the background that I overlooked at a child. I understand the inflection in my parents’ voices as an adult that I never picked up on as a child. The camera picks it all up, and remembers the good and the bad for you. Jacob nailed that chapter!

Also like Jacob, I choose to move forward, using the lessons from my own past as an asset rather than viewing them as an obstacle, a series of never-ending hurdles that I continue to try to jump. As I read Jacob’s book, I thought about those teachers who were there for me in ways I never realized until I became a teacher myself. The times they went above and beyond for me. Some things were simple, like my 2nd grade teacher allowing me to hold the class bunny (a stuffed toy) much longer than any other child got to hold it because I needed that security. Some things were more pointed, the teachers who pushed me and never allowed my story to become my crutch.

Implementation

 

As the implementation of this book, I am creating a personalized thank you card for every teacher I had in my own K-12 education journey. I will be giving these to each of my former teachers very soon. Each card is similar in that it has the teacher’s yearbook photo, as well as mine, from the year they taught me (or the year that stands out to me most if I had them multiple years). Then I share a memory, something they taught me, and/or a special connection we made during my time in their class. Most importantly, I say thank you and that I love them. But shhh, I don’t want them to know about their surprise just yet (I doubt they read my blog, haha). To my knowledge, only one of my former teachers has passed away, so I will share her card with you here.

I am so grateful for each of my teachers who took the time to show me love and believed in me. I am grateful to Jacob for writing this incredible book, which ripped off an old band-aid that I didn’t even realize was still there. In many ways, ripping off that band-aid allows me to truly begin the long, long process of healing. The most beautiful thing about this book is the hope that it gives the readers. In many cases, we don’t know what our students are going through… Jacob’s first person account of his childhood, what very well might be happening in any one (likely more) of my students’ homes tonight, breaks my heart, but knowing that I can be one of the teachers who lifts them up tomorrow and shows them they are more than their circumstances brings about a greater sense of purpose.

Please do yourself and your students (especially those who are like Jacob and me) a favor and get a copy of Jacob’s book, Teach Me Teacher (free preview at the bottom of this page). I believe it will inspire some deep emotions and powerful reflections in every person that reads it. It will bring about compassion, a bit more understanding, and a boatload of empathy to readers everywhere.

And Jacob, you’ve got a big hug coming when I get to meet you one of these days! Thank you for being so raw, open, and honest. I cannot fathom how hard it was to write these stories in such detail, reliving them again and again throughout the entire process, to allow us to learn from you. Thank you.