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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.

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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.

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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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Savor the calm

Calm: a state of being or action that one can feel, see, or act upon.

Yesterday, I took a drive to Texas Tulips after an appointment & was taken back by the calm of the field of tulips. The colors, the smells, and the sights. It was a gloomy day and on the cooler side but the flowers were radiant and really made it worth the drive.

The fields of tulips struck a cord with me as I attempted to not slip in the mud. A simple field of flowers can brighten my day. It can make me stop and appreciate the good around us.

Savoring the calm is a choice. A choice I take every day. Life gets crazy, don’t get me wrong, and deadlines and stress can creep in. At first, it can be okay and then you’re overwhelmed quickly. It’s a vicious cycle.

However, savoring the calm is a necessity of life. It’s a way to step back and relish the good around us. The good that keeps you sane. The good you look forward to. The good that surrounds you day in and out. The good that is around us all if we just stop and savor the calm.

Savoring the calm and be more than tulips or flowers for others. However, it’s a necessity of life. If we don’t slow down and savor what’s around us, we will miss it. Something we can help our students and colleagues around us notice. It’s as simple as a conversation. There’s good all around us. Have you stopped to savor the calm lately?

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Social Emotional learning ideas

Social emotional learning or SEL has become a huge topic of discussion among educators over the past several years and it’s a necessity in any classroom. I get the time aspect to a degree but it’s not excuse to not teach them in your setting.  I have an opportunity to make an impact every day. Social emotional learning is much more than just social skills and sets the tone for managing emotions, setting goals, and building relationships daily.

Social Emotional Learning & ways to incorporate them in your classroomCASEL is a great resource that breaks down SEL competencies and gives ideas and resources you can use in your setting. Edutopia has some great SEL topics and ideas as well. Education Week‘s How Teacher’s can build Social Emotional Learning is a great wealth of knowledge too. If you look, there are lots of ways to incorporate SEL in any setting.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate SEL is to have a circle up or morning meeting with classes. Checking in with student’s to check their emotional pulse will speak volumes about a student before the day gets too far in. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process but it’s vital for teachers to check that pulse and it tells a lot. You can tie in a social skill or two during this time. It is imperative for students to learn how to listen to one another, to take turns, and to be able to listen intently. Sure it takes time but why not start now?The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more things you learn, The more places you'll go.Read alouds are a huge part of my classroom and students love them. My students love being read to and, when they can relate to a lesson and activity, they can grasp skills that are talked about in books. Julia Cook’s books tackle issues kids deal with daily and make it meaningful for kids. There are even books read aloud online if you don’t have a particular book. From lying to the sound of no, there’s something for everyone.

Lately, my students have loved these books and will bring up the theme or what we discussed. When students can relate to a book and talk about it after, they’re hooked.
+ The Color Monster
+ In my Heart: a book about feelings
+ The Bad Seed
+ I am Human: a book about Empathy
+ My Magic Breath
+ Seeds and Trees
There are many more. However, these are the few my students ask for by name and are great review for any age. If you’re a middle or high school teacher, students still love to be read to. It’s a great hook and conversation starter for any age.

Recognizing feelings and being able to identify them as well as note how students feel is imperative in the early years. In my social emotional classroom, I use My Feelings workbook that I found and from young to older, students can identify their feelings and how it makes them feel. It’s a free resource and is so powerful.

Encouraging kindness at any time can be powerful and meaningful. Students need to know how to be kind and how to show kindness to others. Random acts of kindness can be powerful as well as Thankful Thursday. Incorporate kindness in your read alouds, morning meeting, or in a different activity. Encouraging and promoting kindness can change the tone in your classroom today.

Incorporating Social Emotional Learning in your classroom takes planning and follow through. However, it truly makes a difference and the ideas are endless.

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Perspective through a different lens

Today I had the opportunity to attend attend two sessions about trauma responsiveness and behavior by Juliana Nichols-Hazlett. Hazlett is a doctoral student, former administrator and special education teacher, and consultant who is focusing on ensuring that teachers are equipped and empowered to meet the social-emotional needs of their students. I could honestly listen to her all day and got so much out of the her two sessions. Reflecting on what impacted me the most and will make its way into my classroom on Monday morning.

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Ross Greene believes kids do well if they can and that reigns true for people too. People do well if they can and Hazlett notes when people know better, they do better. It’s basic brain architecture really.  Basic brain architecture prove that experiences shape the brain and interactions with adults and through experiences build the brain’s foundation. Something I found very interesting is that the part of the brain that isn’t being used prunes and makes room for new learning and experiences over time.

Educators are seeing trauma in students today. In fact, two out of three students are impacted by trauma. Trauma in our lives changes our body and brain architecture. Educators must remember that it is vital to focus on what happened with/to them versus what’s wrong with them. Every single person manages trauma differently. As educators, it is our job to respond through a relationship that is rooted in regulated and reflective practices.

Many depend on us to be the constant. Until we (adults) recognize the social emotional learning ourselves, we can’t just focus on our students. Hazlett notes a disregulated adult is toxic. If we can’t be rooted in relationships, we aren’t able to meet the deeper needs of the student. Our role as responsive educators isn’t about our title, it’s about the relationship. The way we respond to either reinforces the trauma or repairs the trauma. Building the relationship and truly moving from trauma informed to trauma responsiveness stems to what are we doing and how we are responding to those with trauma.

The way that educators respond to trauma matters. We are wired for connections as humans. It’s how our brain works. Moving from trauma informed to trauma responsiveness takes time and equates to having the knowledge and utilizing it with intent to make a change. It’s a slow process, of course. However, it is my responsibility as an adult and educator, to calm the chaos and not join in. We have an opportunity each day to make an impact and build up a relationship over time. Trauma looks different in everyone but the way you respond and build a relationship with someone truly makes a difference. Be willing to try a new lens, way, approach, or response to make an impact. It matters. Text placeholder.png

 

 

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5 ways to ease back to school

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The New Year is over and students are heading back to school across the United States and beyond this week. The anxiety will be high students who have had their entire routine and structure deviated for the past two weeks. Re-entry into the structured, school setting is fabulous for so many but not without push back from some. Teachers ready to dive back into school as they know it and students ready to reorient to the school setting. For some, school is a safe place where they know they are loved and seen. As educators, we must be mindful that we can’t just dive back into the land of school without some review and refreshers. Coming back from any break means review and refresh for expectations, guidelines, and rules.

5 ways to ease your students back to school

Let students talk..
Some of our students have been at home or without multiple activities over the break. They’re ready to have their friends back and you too. Allow for students to discuss their break. Perhaps ask “who did you spend your break with?” instead of “what did you do over break?” to guide students if needed. Give them a chance to connect again as well as observe the body language and students’ reactions over the regroup time. Some students have been entertained from start to finish while others aren’t. Be mindful and enjoy their stories.

Review expectations and procedures
We have all slept over the past few weeks and have had excitement and stress in our lives. Review expectations with students, make a new anchor chart, and get student input into what makes your classroom work well. From preschool to high school, students like having input and teaching others. Why not step aside and have students review expectations and procedures? Provide feedback as needed.

Practice expectations, procedures & practice again
It’s been a while. After reviewing expectations and procedures, have students practice how they are supposed to be in the classrooms and around the school. Take time to refine your procedures as you are laying the foundation for the second semester or winter term. It may take five tries and that is a-okay. However, reentry and review supports students having a routine they follow and that is vital for so many of our students. Set the foundation and allow students to feel success after a break.

Provide positive feedback & excitement for students
I will admit, I missed my students over the holiday break. Their sayings, appreciation, and just them. However, it was a much needed break. To welcome students back into the classroom, be excited to see them, celebrate who they are, and provide positive feedback. I can bet students missed you or, at least, their structure/schedule over the break. Be intentional about providing specific feedback to students as the day/week progresses. Sometimes we see our students more than they see their parents throughout the work week. Take the initiative and celebrate the students in your class who create the tone and culture of your classroom.

Be visible & upbeat
So many times, our students don’t have positive interactions on the way to school. Something may have happened at home, on the bus, or their basic needs haven’t been met well over the break. Be visible in the morning with your students. I LOVE morning duty to see the first pulse of my students. Offer a greeting, high five/hug/fist bump, and give them attention. The first interaction can make or break a student’s day. Invest time and awareness to students and be upbeat about students coming back to school. Your presence is huge for so many students.

Ease back into school knowing your schedule may flux a little, there may be an occasional frustration or two, and some may be so exhausted the first day. However, know YOU MATTER to your students every day. Sometimes, YOU are their constant and they depend on you as much as they etch their story into your heart. After a long break can be challenging. However, keep the expectations consistent, review & practice expectations, keep the structure present, and the bar high for your students.

Have a wonderful winter/second semester term!

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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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A grateful heart

Every so often, I tell people I am a special educator and get the response “it takes a special person to do that.” Other times, I tell people I am a teacher and get the response “oh you’re stronger than me.” Sometimes these responses bring good feelings and other times, I wonder, what else is posed on teachers when others find out their profession.

There’s a simple truth, though, to my teaching and answering my calling and that is with a grateful heart. A grateful heart to teach, to watch students be successful, to see students struggle and succeed, and to keep coming back. My profession as a Social Emotional Teacher has stretched me thin this semester. I never realized how much students dealt with until I started working with students with trauma filled lives and struggles. For my first six weeks of this year, I responded to calls for assistance and, in turn, found out that trauma has so many facets. Primarily, trauma does not discriminate nor is it just in special education. It is real and lives and breathes within so many students. It’s present every day and students react in many different ways.

Trauma does not discriminate. It happens everywhere—across all races, religions, socioeconomic levels, and family systems.

This school year has defined my grateful heart even more than years past. I have the opportunity to show up to a population of students that needs a constant. A population of students that uses my experience and knowledge for power and support. This is not me tooting my own horn; it’s owning what I can give every single day. Whether it’s responding to screams or elopement or being under a table with a student, my grateful heart of supporting students grows.

While I spend most of my days in a self contained unit working with extreme emotional and behavioral needs, I still consider it a gift to help others who need support as I am able. Being able to empower teachers and students daily is a calling that has solidified over the past two years. It’s not just the students that need support; it’s the teachers and staff working with students daily who need support too.

There are so many needs in the classroom setting and while, I can only do so much, I lead with a grateful and willing heart to support others. Whether it’s a teacher at their wits end or needing some new ideas or a student in crisis, my hope is to respond with a grateful and willing heart every single time.

A matter of hours