My not-so-easy-to-write answer to, “WHY do I do it?” #Youredustory

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it” – Simon Sinek

Why do I do what I do?

First, what do I do…?

I am a teacher, and mother, and writer and it’s a long list, but within that there must be a something that defines me a bit.

What is it that those who cheer me and those that are frustrated with me would both say?

Perhaps it is that  – I challenge… good or bad – I’ll admit and own it – I challenge…

In my defense, I challenge myself as well. I’m willing to just try something. I experiment. I get in over my head and have to find my way out. I take on too much and I am always on a journey – never feeling like I’ve arrived.

Normally, it’s for want of company or at least understanding that I put out the challenge. “Have you read…?” “What if we looked at it another way…” “I used to think that too, but now I think…”

The words are out before I have time to swallow them back.

Why do I do that?

Wouldn’t it be easier to go along with the crowd? Deflect the blame… make excused… talk about what’s wrong with kids these days…


I’ve been thinking about it and I can point to a DuFour conference and a Wormeli book, or two, that gave me a push. That graduate program in Instructional Leadership didn’t help. Let’s not even talk about the light bulb moment that comes with my son’s dyslexia…

The “why” does come from all of the above experiences, but if we are going to be totally honest it comes from being that kids in the classroom that never – ever – ever — passed a spelling test. I read every book I could get my hands on, I wrote essays for the fun of it, I was a hungry learner, but I had a glitch that I didn’t understand.

A gap?

A learning style?

A reason for people to laugh.

It was something that didn’t make bubble test easy. It stood in the way of being able to retrieve multiplication facts on a timed test. Most embarrassing – It made me a very frustrated student in a one and done, 20 words a week – we are moving on and you failed school system.

I hated that,

and now, I recognize the precarious a situation I was in. In some ways I hated school, I didn’t trust right away, and I could recognize a “got cha” grader from a mile away.

I didn’t know about learning styles or brain development back then. All I knew what that I was really smart, but not every teacher was interested in finding that out. If I challenged them as a student – they were likely to respond negatively. I can only imagine how kids who provide much more significant challenges feel every time they walk into a classroom. I am not willing to make them feel the way I did just because I am now in the position to do so.

I challenge. I do. I need to learn to be gentle. To respond from empathy. To honor people were they are. Yes, I’ll own that too. I’m working on it.

But if it helps to know why, if it inspires buy in, if it explains who I am… than I’ll go back to that raw feeling of failure and frustration that came every Friday afternoon when the teacher said, “take out a piece of loose leaf paper and number it from one to twenty.”

I don’t want to be the teacher that puts a sense of “no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I will never be successful at this” in the minds of my students.

“Ouch.” I know.

I feel like I can be someone different. Someone who inspires and supports. Someone who keeps hope alive and reminds that “we are just not there yet” – we teachers, we students, we community of learners…”

It’s my belief that we will to get there.


That answers… why I do it?


One Word That Inspires Me in My Classroom – “Grace”

When I teach I strive to do it with grace. No, I’m certainly not a ballerina floating about the classroom. When I think of grace I think of a deeper meaning – one that goes with words like favor, good will, mercy, and honor.

Do I have a favorite student? Honestly, I believe that if I’ve done things right they all think they’re a favorite. My goal is to be a safe spot for the kids – a place where they can check in and feel connected. Middle school kids move all day and crave a place where they are unconditionally welcome. I truly believe that if I can make that connection, then I have a chance at growing a passionate learner – which is even more important than any curriculum or content.

Competition in the classroom that makes learning fun and supports healthy motivation is one thing – but I draw the line when it starts looking like sorting students. Good will for me means that I am going to do my best to ensure that all my students learn at high levels, and I will hold myself accountable to that. When the kids know that’s the goal, then the collaboration and support grows as well. We become a community of learners.

Mercy. My own kids are the same age as my students and I can attest that they really don’t have a ton of control over their own lives. Things go wrong– they run out of time – organizational skills fall apart – there is a game or extra practice that they didn’t expect– or even worse I ask them to babysit or insist they actually practice that instrument—there are rarely enough hours in the day. Mercy, for me is recognizing when a student is not there yet – and the reason for the “yet” may or may not sound valid to my ears – it doesn’t really matter. I’m trying to get over the need to judge or snap back with a “got-cha” and instead help them to make a new plan.

Kids learn differently. They occasionally sweat the small stuff and overlook the big stuff. Each comes to my classroom with their own story to tell, their own baggage, their own disappointments, and their own dreams. When I honor them as individuals and their work as precious pieces of learning evidence the tone of my day changes. There is an investment that we are willing to make in each other and the work we will do together. I feel and act more like a coach than a boss and I’m more willing to celebrate their individuality even if it does make record keeping and lesson planning a greater challenge.

This is where I am right now as a teacher. It’s a reflection on my vocation in this moment – a snap shot of my thinking. I have not always been here and I hope that a year from now I am further along on the journey. For me in 2015, I’m feeling the gifts of grace.

Keynotes, Classrooms, and Communication – Reflecting on What Works

Statistics show that over 41% of people have some level of fear or anxiety about speaking in front of an audience. I imagine that statistic might be generous. Who doesn’t get a little nervous right before any kind of speaking opportunity? It’s daunting. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a risk. Yes, it can be great. You might nail it and receive raving reviews, but then again – you might not. If you fail, if you fall flat on your face, if you become lip locked, start giggling, and forget everything… the entire audience is there to witness. This is scary stuff.

On the other hand, teachers must prepare students with the skills they will need to be successful in the changing global workplace. Being able to communicate effectively is one of those vital skills. As scary as public speaking can be, it must become commonplace in our classrooms.

The middle school where I teach is home to one of the first 1:1 iPad programs. As I began creating assignments that incorporated the use if the iPad, I realized that Keynote, Apple’s version of PowerPoint, was a great resource. The program is very intuitive. With very little help, the students could create presentations to highlight what they were learning. This has been a great way to pull together a unit of study together. For example, the students create and present a ‘Keynote’ at the end of a chapter or novel as a creative response to what they learned and discovered.

Individual students used presentations to report to the class what they were learning. In addition to a written report, for example, a short talk summarizing a book or primary document was a fun way to spark further interest and promote shared knowledge in the classroom. At the same time, having students who are working in groups collaborate on a presentation helped promote teamwork and problem solving.

We have a number of multidisciplinary project based learning events that we run each year. Often we invite experts from our community to come to the school to work with our students. The students gave short ‘Keynote’ presentations to update our visiting experts that included goal setting, data, and questions. As groups present, the other students in the room listened to provide feedback, take notes, and evaluate how they might be able to use the information. At the end of a project, more polished presentations were given, as a culminating reports, describing how their group answered the project’s driving question.

At the end of our seventh grade fuel cell project, a group of students was asked to present at a citywide meeting of leaders who wanted to know how technology was changing their everyday learning. This group’s goal was to explore ways to improve local education in order to draw new businesses into our community. The students listened to the invitation and immediately began working. I was hearing things like, “We have to remember our target audience,” and “Remember to make the slides easy to read. Put the details into the speaker’s notes.” It was fun to watch them work and even more fun to hear them present. In fact, they did so well that they were asked to speak two more times including an event with three hundred local CEOs, politicians, and business leaders.

They were a hit. I was proud. Best of all, I know that what that what we are doing in the classroom is meaningful preparation for their future and what can be better feedback than that?