Creating a Stronger Foundation

Nearly three years ago 150(ish) 6th graders began their first day of middle school. I also began my first day of middle school (well, my first as a teacher) that year, after 10 years teaching in elementary school.

Now it’s the spring break before they leave for high school and I’m already dreading the last day of school. You see, for over 50 of those students, we didn’t just go through the challenges of making a transition from elementary to middle school together, learning the rules, procedures, and PBIS motto, together… we’ve been together since they were in 3rd grade. This is the group of students that I started in the media center with; I have been their media coordinator for SIX school years. We, and their families, have a bond that is super strong. From the time they were eight years old, we have laughed together, learned together, and matured together. To put it in perspective, my youngest daughter wasn’t even a year old when this group of children and I started our journeys. She’s finishing Kindergarten in a few weeks.

These kids have been “my guinea pigs” when it comes to learning and taking risks. I’ve always tried things with them first, just to “see how it goes,” and they *LOVE* it! (So do I.) Seeing them finish eighth grade and move on to the high school makes my heart soar, and it makes my heart break. To say that I love these kids is an understatement. They are a special group. Amazing students, INCREDIBLE minds with way too much knowledge of how the world really works. They are go-getters and I’m 100% sure they will change the world. Many of their stories would break your heart and then you’d see their determination and you’d feel the same pride I feel when I see them persevere and destroy the barriers that stand before them. In the coming weeks, I will take several of them to Washington, D.C. for a three-day field trip and I will attend their 8th grade formal. I will take up their Chromebooks for the last time, removing the labels with their name on it; I will watch with tears in my eyes as they have their final celebrations and sign yearbooks. Then on June 11, I will stand in the hall in front of the media center with waterproof mascara on as we take red-eyed photos together one final time.

I dread that day; no summer countdowns this year as I don’t want to think about the dwindling amount of time we have left to make memories together.

∞∞∞∞∞

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 11.16.45 PM

Eight months ago, 150(ish) 6th graders started their journey in middle school. Nearly 50 of them were in 1st grade when we met for the first time. They had just finished 3rd grade when I moved to the middle school. We had a lot of catching up to do. During #DBC50Summer, one of my goals was to build a strong connection with this group. After reading Teaching Math with Google Apps by Alice Keeler and the late Diana Herrington, I was so excited to use Google Slides to learn student names and imported selfies using their Chromebook’s webcam. I mentioned in Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth by Aaron Hogan that I’ve really struggled getting to know the 6th graders as quickly as I’d like.

Knowing that relationships are e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, I decided to use a portion of our time together in our first media class to have students use a Google Slides template to allow me to get to know them better. I would LOVE to be able to spend the entire class doing getting-to-know-you activities and culture builders, however I see students for media classes once a month for approximately 50 minutes at a time. During this time, we’re getting to know one another, getting acquainted with the media space, discovering expectations, checking out books, and learning a new tech tool and creating something amazing. Oh, and I try to embed standards from English Language Arts as this is the class they are coming from to have media.

With that said, the Google Slides template (my #DBC50Summer implementation) was a success. There are certainly things I will do differently next year, but I like the template itself (I may still add a slide for a selfie.) Next year, I will likely devote more time to this activity on the first day and determine who the student experts are in Google Slides, assigning them as peer tutors. This will give more ownership to students immediately and frees me to walk around chatting with students to get to know them, rather than answering their questions about importing an image.

The template I used is here. You will be forced to make a copy in Google Drive, then you can change it up as you see fit if you’d like to use it with your own students. (If you don’t have GoogleDrive, connect with me on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll happily send it via ppt or keynote).

Using these Google Slides has allowed me to get to know student interests and family dynamics faster than I have in the past. I commented on each submitted slide deck with more questions and responses about what we have in common. Next year I will share these with classroom teachers as they are available as a resource when teachers are designing learning experiences. Creating this as an assignment in Google Classroom made it so easy! If you use this approach, I certainly welcome feedback and even more ideas!

 

 

What’s On Your Walls?

What is on our walls says a lot about what we value. At home, we have pictures of our daughters, a wall decal that reads Family Est 2006, and several Bible verses.

During #DBC50Summer, I read Steve Wyborney‘s book The Writing on the Classroom Wall and decided that my implementation would be to share my own educational views on the walls of the media center (my classroom). See my blog post here. Throughout the year I have added inspirational quotes to the tops of bookcases, on the circulation desk, and even on the school announcements which run on televisions in the front lobby, media center, and cafeteria.

When reading Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard, I knew I wanted to put a map of the United States on the wall to remind myself and the students that we can break through our own mental barriers to uncover the potential within ourselves. (See the blog post here.) I took this implementation a step further!

This is my third year at the middle school I serve. Every year the 8th grade students put together a puzzle, and when it is complete, I frame it and put it on the wall. The first year was a 1500-piece puzzle with mustangs (our school mascot) drinking water from a river. The second year was a 1000-piece puzzle with globes of various sizes and colors. I wanted this year’s puzzle to be very special as I’ve been with a third of the group since they were eight years old. My former position was at the elementary school that feeds into my current middle school. I moved to the middle school when they did, so we’ve spent six years together. (Yes, I will be an emotional wreck on the last day of school.)

I decided that rather than placing a road map on the wall, we would put together a puzzle of a world map. Therefore, the 1000-piece puzzle for this year’s 8th grade is a map of the world. It has been framed and is now mounted on the wall with inspirational quotes on canvases all around it! Our amazing art teacher painted the canvases and did some beautiful calligraphy to make the quotes stand out!

IMG_6271

I am so excited to see the map puzzle and the quotes around the media center so anyone who enters the media center knows what the space is about. They know what I believe about education without a question! Here’s a short slideshow with several of the quotes around the media center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

#DBCBookBlogs: They Call Me “Mr. De”

Cassie Bernall, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez, Coach Dave Sanders

The names of those murdered by two students at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine that day and he remained principal for the following 15 years. This may go on record as the shortest #DBCBookBlog to date as I feel that anything I would say would diminish the power of this book. This book left me speechless. I cried. I mourned the loss of those lives. I felt the Rebel Pride of Columbine as I read about the recovery, the hope, and love of the community through Frank’s eyes. This is a must-read book.

TheyCallMeMrDe

There are certain events that have occurred in which I remember exactly where I was and how I felt. The mass tragedy at Columbine was one of those times. I was in middle school and as news didn’t spread quite as quickly as it does today, I found out about the shooting on the evening news. There wasn’t a lot of information available, but I remember feeling stunned that this could happen. The community of Columbine seemed so much like my own community – supportive, vibrant, and loving.

To say that anything “good” came from that day must feel like a slap in the face to those who experienced the horror. With that in mind, I will just say that I am thankful for the efforts of Frank and so many others to protect students across the country from these senseless tragedies. At my school, we now have locks on our doors that lock from the inside, a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO), video surveillance across our entire campus, a front-door buzzer, panic buttons, badges for volunteers and visitors, and more. We practice two lockdowns per year in conjunction with our Sheriff’s Department. However, with all of these safety protocols in place, these tragedies continue to occur.

While I feel as though I’m powerless to prevent this from happening to anyone else, I can be certain to be more involved in the lives of my own children. By my children, I mean both my biological daughters and the thousands of students whom I consider to be my children. I struggle to believe that children are born evil. I’m not sure what changed the two gunmen from silly little boys to murderous young men, but I can be sure to be proactive as a parent and an educator. No one knows what tomorrow holds. We can only spread kindness, hope, and love, just like Frank DeAngelis.

One of the things that stood out to me the most from reading this book is the effort Frank put in to include the names of every single person who was instrumental in the recovery and resiliency of the community. He honors the students who lost their lives by sharing their stories and being involved in countless charities and organizations. He speaks across the world and reaches out to those who have been affected by similar tragedies. Lean on others when you need support. Like Frank, it’s important to seek treatment by a professional and show your emotions. Grieve together. Share positive memories with one another. Check up on each other. If you are a spiritual person, dive into your faith like never before. These are some of the keys to Columbine’s hope, recovery, and resiliency.

Thank you, Frank DeAngelis, for sharing your story. Thank you for being raw, honest, and vulnerable. Thank you for allowing us to see you. I imagine writing this story was part of your own recovery and I appreciate your heart. Because of you, the lives of the Beloved Thirteen will continue to be remembered. Never Forgotten.

∞∞∞

No matter what your profession, no matter your political affiliation, your spiritual beliefs, every person should read this book. It’s important that the truth is shared and that these lives are remembered. Read a free preview, then order your hardcover copy here.