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Redefining self care

As educators, we care for others. Make more decisions than the average joe and still put ourselves behind when life gets going. We make excuses and don’t always treat ourselves the best.

However, this can not go on for very long. It will not end well, trust me. Burning the candle at both ends, not caring for YOU will not end well. Self care, though, is a HUGE umbrella that encompasses many ideas others will tell you to do to be up to educating students and others day in and out.

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You will have (well intending) colleagues tell you to get enough sleep, take care of yourself, practice self care, and more. However, at the end of the day, what looks great for someone may not be the other’s cup of tea. Self care is defined as care of one self when you look it up in the dictionary. It’s broad, it’s unlimited, and it really should be defined by each person.

Therefore, I am redefining self care for me. I may not like to run or spend time in the heat if I don’t have to. Others may choose that and it shouldn’t be a popularity contest or competition. But I do have things that fill my cup and make me refreshed such as taking nature photography and spending time with family’s dogs. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s a-okay! It’s for the care of myself that makes it worth it.

The bottom line is that WE must define self care for ourselves. It’s a MUST in our field and we have to do it without accepting our well intending colleagues ideas if they’re not our cup of tea. It’s okay! Take charge of your self care today.

Redefine what self care looks like for you! You deserve it! 

Redefine self care for you!.png

Pd4uandme1This blog post is apart of the #pd4uandme July blogging Bingo
Image created by Pam Hubler 

 

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Why relationships first

Imagine a new classroom full of students you don’t know and you’re given a guide to teach with, lessons to utilize, and given the green light to start your new year. Now imagine a classroom full of students that don’t know you and struggle with learning. This was me in late elementary and early middle school. A struggling learner too shy to speak up and too afraid to mess up over and over again. A learner who craved to learn but didn’t want anyone else to see me struggle. I had teachers that didn’t catch my learning difficulties and I struggled to trust the next teacher.

The classroom environment can bring anxiety and stress to so many students. Students that struggle with someone new knowing their story and understanding how to teach them. Students that have had bad experiences and are cautious to let someone new in. New teachers understanding that their lessons may not fit students who are struggling academically, emotionally, socially, physically, or within a few of these. When students are given something to do and are already uneasy about the situation, escalation of emotions can occur. It’s not personal; it’s a reaction to what the student is given. It’s a response to the situation. While it may not be appropriate, it happens.

When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts. (1).png

As teachers, we are told to get to know our students. We are told to character build and include all students. Inadvertently though, we can cause a fire storm right in front of our eyes. Providing activities that we feel will strengthen the classroom environment can cause students to doubt if they can succeed in this classroom. The struggle is real for so many of our students and we have to remember relationships over content first. We are in the heart business and must educate the hearts of our students to educate with content second.

What does that look like? It starts with investing in our students through love. Love to be included in their classrooms, love to feel safe, and love to trust you. Can it be a long road? Absolutely! However, your students will know you love them as your actions and words bring them back to your room day after day. If you pour out love to your students, it will make a difference and build your relationship with them.

There is nothing in this world more powerful than love. (1).png

We’ve all heard the phrase “relationships first” and go with the flow. However, relationships are the foundation for having students learn the content in your area. If there’s no relationship, no trust with your student, the content won’t be grasped to the capacity needed to obtain mastery. You will be spinning in many directions without the relationship first. You and the student will endear many frustrations that could have been avoided if the relationship was build upon first.

You can’t speak into someone’s life until you build a relationship with them.

Looking back, I had a few superhero teachers who did it right and some that didn’t. Being a struggling learner who had a multitude of learning challenges, the teacher that made the most difference on me built the relationship first. They talked to me and listened, they noticed when I struggled, they encouraged me to keep going, and they cared.

Build upon the relationship from day one, listen, and be apart of the student’s journey as a learner and not just the teacher of record.

 

 

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Facing the challenge

Facing the challenge & overcoming circumstances

Imagine, for a minute, you are a ten year old student who doesn’t read well, is in fifth grade, and is struggling with academics, emotions, and fear of the unknown for eight hours a day at school. Imagine being given assignment after assignment, being told to read material, and feeling the angst of not knowing how day after day. Imagine, for a second, how the struggle of defeat day in and out felt for a student in your classroom or school now.

I was that student in fifth grade. I remember that gut wrenching feeling of failure and shame of not really knowing how to read well day in and out. I was tested in elementary school but didn’t really fit the mold of the ranges to be a person with a specific learning disability at first. Through the tears, the worries, the fears, and the trials, my parents didn’t give up. I, on the other hand of ten, wanted to badly.

Days and nights of frustration filled my soul. The lack of confidence, since I didn’t know how to read, engulfed me. I struggled. I needed support and I had just that when I hit rock bottom. My family chose to go outside of the district to have me diagnosed since the school district didn’t and, at that time, found out that I learned slower than peers my age, had Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Specific Learning disabilities, and a slew of other issues. Finally, an answer to the struggles.

These labels didn’t define me though. They give me a reason to fight back along the way. The labels gave me a reason to understand why I learned differently and struggled. The labels and struggles opened the doors for the support I desperately needed. Looking back, I wish the school district would have intervened earlier or had helped sooner. However, this fuels my fire to continue to face the challenge of learning disabilities and barriers along the way.

It took one person to say what I was going through wasn’t okay. It took a team of professionals one opportunity to recognize that what I was going through needed to be remedied. It took time, lots of patience, tutoring, and more patience to allow me to read and be able to understand what I read.

However, no one gave up on me and, for that, I am truly grateful for this notion. There were long hours, frustrations, tears, and struggles. The struggles didn’t magically go away as I encountered middle and high school as well as college. I just learned strategies and self advocacy along the way. I now serve a Special Education teacher. However, the struggles gave me fuel to help others so no one would have to sit in my fifth grade seat and feel like I did to this day.

Fuel the fire (1)

There is always a reason for a trial. Whether we know it now or have to find it along the way, it’s there. It’s unending, undefined (at the moment), and untamed. However, there is a reason somewhere along the way. I never want any student to ever go through what I did and this empowers me to fuel the fire, kindle the flames, and never give up on any student. They deserve more than I received and that’s why I do what I do every day.

 

 

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Empathy as a superpower

Every day, educators are faced with situations that involve emotions. No matter the ages of students, educators must think quick on their feet at times. We manage the good times and the difficult trials with our students every day. It is difficult to face but it’s our reality. As educators our reality isn’t just to educate but to build a relationship to support the student during their good and tough moments.

When we get right down to it, educators are in the heart business. Every day we provide positive feedback, model how to work through difficult situations, and provide a safety net for our students. We adjust our practices and strategies to meet the diverse needs of every student whether it’s an behavioral, emotional, or academic need.

Every day, we hear about their dreams, their interests, and eventually they let us inside their world and whatever good or difficult may be there. The simple truth is our students have baggage, trauma, and negative experiences that make journey through life difficult. Some may keep it all in and never show an explosive response to it while others may meltdown, cry, become violent, and act out. Every student is unique in their journey.We MUST remember that ALL behavior is feedback. It_s what we use to learn more about our students and get better at meeting their needs.Add subheading (1)Behavior tells a story whether it’s good or bad. How we respond or note the behavior truly matters. Educators must use and reuse empathy every day. Empathy gets down to the feelings of the individuals. Empathy puts yourself in their shoes. Think about that. Put yourself in your student’s shoes when responding to their behaviors. How would you want someone to respond if you’re visibly upset or emotional? How would you feel if someone just stared at you when you were having a tough time?

Instead of trying to fix every situation or come up with a fast solution, I challenge you to listen to your students, observe their body language, and hear what they really are saying. Put yourself in their shoes and see the problem face on together. Every educator has a duty to meet the needs of students each day. Why not use empathy as a superpower to connect and understand your students?

Empathy is a super power

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Uncharted waters…move forward

A plan: An idea of how one perceives how something will go in life. 
Reality: What really happens once a plan is moved forward.

This year started out like any other. New students, new rooms, new year. Hurricane Harvey then shattered much of South Texas and the community and world pitched in to help evacuate, rescue, and rebuild. It still gives me chills in May. The daily sirens, alerts, and helicopter sounds still make me pause when I hear them today. Ten days of hurricane Harvey’s destruction and rebuilding brought people back together and made many, including myself, grateful for what I had. People went back to life as they could and school started after two weeks of seeing devastation and destruction hit many.

The year continued. People rebuilt, people supported the Hurricane victims, and our students continued to come each day. Our students craved the stability, consistency, and structure of what we provide each day. While our personal lives may have been through so much, we had to put on a brave face and be there, all in, for our students. It was one of the hardest things working through the emotions, roadblocks, and devastation much of the area received. Our students saw too much, noticed the fears and struggles, and then came back craving their routine and stability. The back to school a second time was more challenging than the first. Our students struggled. They had been watching the devastation hit and then were thrown back into the demands of academics.

School continued, report cards went home, and we were back on track or so it seemed. 

Our students had to adjust as did the teachers. They had been home engulfed in emotions and fear. Fear presents in many ways. However, our students had so much more baggage then than in the beginning. The practice of building the culture began. Our students were given the chance to process, vent, explain, and had a way to express themselves. It was eye opening. It was changing. It was needed.

This year has not been easy by any means. From turmoil to difficulties, I truly am grateful for the intertwined lessons the challenges brought. There have been many support sessions, questions asked, and I am extremely grateful for my team. I can ask a question, receive the support, and move forward. It’s a plan I had no idea I needed but, in reality, is something that was meant to be.

Aside from the natural disasters and the aftermath, my journey with my students this year has been difficult. It’s not something I will air completely. But it has had many factors and trials along the way. The daily stress and difficulties this year have made me reevaluate what my purpose is as an educator and where I can serve students to the fullest capacity. An easy decision to move closer to family and the most difficult was to leave the students I have invested in for four years has been heart-wrenching. However, it’s time for a change. A path of new direction. A need to serve other students in a different capacity. My reality unknown but uncharted waters await.

Something the Hurricane and aftermath taught me was things don’t go our way for long. It’s the nature of the existence. We plan, life happens. We move forward & accept what comes our way. It’s not something you can mourn. It’s something you can accept.

This year has been full of many, many trials and our plan does not always go as planned. Reality is, however, there’s a lesson in each journey. A journey of uncharted waters untouched and just waiting for someone to use.

Uncharted waters

 

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Oxygen first

Oxygen, a necessity of life. Something we need on a daily basis. Oxygen can be something we’re willing to receive and give out without hesitation. It can surround us and, at times, we can ignore the deprivation as we press on to meet a need or to complete a task.
Decisions, stress, outbursts, behavior, needs to be met, and the list goes on. Every day as educators, we are pulled in many directions. From before the sun to many hours after us, many seek our attention and need our input. It’s a continuous cycle that repeats day after day and week after week too.
The nature of the beast is that we, as educators, are in a profession that pulls us so many ways. It happens in a blink of an eye and can be rewarding and exhausting simultaneously. The need to meet our own needs and recognize the fact that we need oxygen to continue gets left behind or overlooked in a sense.
I, for one, am guilty of ignoring the exhaustion and don’t always remember to breathe first. It’s a vicious cycle and have a great support system to remind me but it happens.
We’re human and this is just a friendly reminder to be sure to breathe and take the oxygen first before you put your best foot forward each and every day.
Oxygen first...
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Our students > a state test

This past week I had students ask me about STAAR (Texas state assessment) and when it was slated to be given. My first response was the month but that didn’t stop my wondering minds standing in front of me. They wanted to know the dates and whom would be testing them (they are in small group and individual testing locations). You see, my students are in special ed and this assessment creates a lot of unknown and fear for them. It changes their normal, changes where they attend for the day, and changes what they see. It creates a lot of anxiety for them and adults alike and these are JUST ten and eleven year olds.

When I was able to look up the dates, my students started to look upset, rock, and get very quiet (very unlike them). The FEAR and anxiety had started in January. JANUARY! As an educator and someone who struggled at their age with learning, this breaks my heart into a million pieces.

As a Special Education Teacher, my job isn’t defined by a state assessment. I meet my students individual needs each and every day! My job is defined and reviewed by an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and meeting the needs of my students each and every day. Do some of my students take the regular STAAR with accommodations, yes. Some of my students also take the STAAR-Alt due to their disabilities. But the STAAR doesn’t define my students or myself each day!

My students are SO MUCH more than just what is on paper and what a snapshot of the test day gives and brings. The STAAR test is a day in their school year. It DOES NOT define who they are and what they have to offer. It’s not individualized or what level they are on. It’s a standardized assessment. Just a test on a given day that is a snapshot of that day not what all a student can and can’t do!

As the STAAR (or a your state assessment) gets closer and closer, I have to stop, take a breath, and tell my students each day that they are SO MUCH more than a state assessment. It DOES NOT define who they are, what they offer, and who they will become. It’s just a TEST. To them, though, it’s a day in the week that throws their who day and schedule off. It has problems that are too difficult compared to the level they are at and it’s tense. To them, it’s a day that is not routine and scheduled like they are used to. To them, it’s so much more than JUST a test.

In a world that assesses our students, we have to remember that our students are still KIDS who have questions, fears, and anxiety just like us but they don’t have the adult attached to them to be able to breathe and process like us.  Our students are SO MUCH more than just a test! 

As state assessments get closer and closer, I challenge educators to have those conversations about when the assessments occur, how STATE assessments do NOT define what students are, and how AMAZING our students are each and every day!

KEEP CALM and TEACH students who are SO much more than a test!