How To Encourage Girls on #internationalwomensday

Hey y’all! Hope your life isn’t as crazy busy as mine has been. I miss this space. I miss reflecting. I have so much in my head, just no chance to get it out. Today I feel caught up. Today is a good day, it’s International Women’s Day. A day we celebrate women and realize what a huge contribution they make on today’s society. We celebrate our female heroes. My heroes growing up were Sally Ride and Amelia Earhart. I read every book I could about them. It’s amazing I don’t have wings! 

Sally ride

I find it counterproductive, though, to celebrate women without taking the time to celebrate girls. One of the largest struggles women and girls face today is being put in a box. Girls are told what they are supposed to like, believe, look like, and careers that should choose. As educators, especially female educators, we should make a conscious effort not to do this. Here are some things women do that they probably don’t realize are harmful.

  • Openly diet. When teachers are constantly talking about what diet they are on, body shamming themselves, and skipping meals, it makes an impact on children. I’ve had my own child beg to go on a diet and refusing to eat meals because she wanted to be like the teacher she idolized. I remember wanting so bad to get nutri slim shakes growing up because that’s what the cool teachers had for lunch. When as a middle schooler I struggled with anorexia, I learned my habits from my teachers. 
  • Say that math is hard. Girls don’t have the support to try math career paths like boys do. Stereotypes are already telling them careers like doctors, engineers, and scientists are for white male nerds, they need strong women to show them that math can be done.
  • Focus on looks. Take a moment, or a day, and look at how many times you compliment girls vs boys on looks. While it does feel good to be complemented, make sure their worth isn’t just how they look or what they wear.
  • Ignore technology. Same as I said above with math, girls need that exposure before stereotypes are formed. I hear too many female teachers say daily that they don’t get technology (though they are nailing Facebook and Pinterest). I rarely hear that from male teachers. Take the tech you are used to and bring it into the classroom. Ask for help. Most districts have a tech specialist, they have that job because they want to help you, ask!

The majority of educators are women, we have the power to empower girls. We are their biggest cheerleaders. Let’s cheer for them to be whoever they are meant to be, not the box society expects them to fit in.

Will You Stay Cold or Light a Fire?

Teachers are awesome. They are this group of people who put others before themselves. Many times before their families and social lives. They care more than you can imagine. Teachers take a lot of abuse. They allow things to just roll off their backs because they know what they are doing is the right thing and is for the betterment of society. While, thanks to social media, we have many leaders emerge and take stands, there is still a majority out there that are so busy putting others first, they aren’t taking a stand for the career they have put everything into. Because of this, I am starting to worry about education system of this country. We are starting a new year, I think with this new year, we need to say something. There is power in numbers and there are a lot more teachers out there than there are politicians. It is time to fight for our jobs. It is time to stand up for what is right.

If you are curious to what I am talking about, here are two examples:

  1. A few months ago my state, Alabama, got a new State Superintendent. Our former one “got it,” he understood students, teachers, and curriculum. Our new one, Michael Sentance, has a degree in American Studies and a law degree. He went from Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts to their Undersecretary of Education then Secretary of Education. He’s never worked in a school, has no degree, and no experience. He also has no certification. He may have great ideas, but without experience does he even know if his ideas will work? How does this make those of us that are in schools feel? Those who have taken classes after classes on best practices, curriculum, and school management and are still paying for those classes with no pay raise for almost 7 years? But our government thinks that he is an expert yet teachers can’t get supplies and respect they deserve.
  2. Then, Betsy DeVos has been named as the President Elect’s US Secretary of Education. My first thought was to be glad it wasn’t Michelle Rhee. But then I read her resume. Again, a US Secretary of Edu without an education degree. But it gets worse. She has never even attended a public school. We laugh in education at how everyone is an expert because they went to public school, she didn’t. Her kids have never attended public schools. She’s never worked in education. She did lobby for Detroit, I’ll let you read this and form your own opinion.

So yeah, teachers are taking hits. You have to wonder what these degrees are actually worth. The years of preparing for walking into classrooms are for naught. Almost 60% of us have higher degrees, not many professions can boast that. We need to speak up. We need to start proving our expertise. While shopping on Black Friday I saw this quote from Horace Traubel, “If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.”

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I think it’s time to start building fires. Not time to be defiant (we are teachers, we like rules) but time to take a stand. Stop allowing others to put down our profession and taking away our voice. Naturally teachers are nurturers we put everyone else before us, we chose a profession out of love not need to make a lot of money. But if we keep rolling and not asking for help from the community and politicians while educating them, then we can’t expect things to get better. Start here with signing and sharing this petition to Congress.

Where Is That Bridge Over the Digital Divide?

I made a joke the other day that there was an entire generation of people that has no idea why people are looking at their phones and raising eye brows and opening their mouths. (If you are one of them, Snap Chat has filters that change when you raise your eye brows or open your mouth.) While I said it as a joke, I started thinking about the fact that this is true. No not everyone needs to know how to Snap Chat but adults need to know what kids are doing when using phones/internet. Especially teachers.

 

I live on the side of a mountain in Alabama. We had snow/ice/sleet last night so spent the night at my parents’ house to avoid getting stranded (they also have more food and a generator if power goes out). While snooping in my childhood bedroom I found a note passed to me from a friend back in middle school. While I found “so was Space Jam any good, I think we are going Friday” hilarious, of course it was awesome, the rest made me stop and think. She was ranting about our Spanish teacher going on and on about something that happened 20 years ago. She said, “why would I care about something that happened that long ago, she needs to worry about today.” So this may have just sounded like typical bored middle schooler but I had just had a conversation with my mom that made this hit home.

Earlier I was telling my mom about how I was explaining to some teachers that if Google Suite makes their lives easier, then they need to remember it can help their students’ lives easier. After talking about a few more conversations like that she looked at me and said, “you have to wonder how many times a day students look at teachers and think, why can’t they get it, they are so old and behind the times” she then said, “it is like there is a language barrier without anyone to interpret for each group.” Huh. She may be right.

When I was in grad school I had to do so many projects on the digital divide and “haves” versus “have nots” when it came to technology usage. We learned that people with money used tech and those without did not. I think our digital divide has shifted. When I pause and look at education and technology, our kids get it and find ways to get/use technology. That socioeconomic divide is getting smaller everyday, but a new divide is taking over. The new digital divide is from those resistant to use technology with students and those that use it as best as they can. The ones finding ways to use it are speaking the language and meeting the needs of the students that need the technology. They get that students don’t have pencils because outside of school work, there are not uses for them. They get that since they use digital calendars for everything at their place of business, this may work for their students as well. I get the push back all the time, I don’t like having my students use Google Docs because that is not what they will use in business, they need Word. I get that, but how many of your students have computers with Word? I bet that number is drastically less than the number of students who have smart phones or tablets with a Google Doc app. We need to use what is best for them, now.

I understand, technology is hard. But if we want to reach all students, we need to try to speak their language. We need to get to their side of the divide. Maybe even make a funny video raising our eyebrows?

Socialized VS Self-Authoring: Where Is You Mind?

I am sitting here doing my ‘homework’ for a class I am in and I have a few thoughts. We are studying the top stages of Bob Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory are “socialized mind” and “self-authoring mind.”

Socialized = external sources shape our meaning-making

Self-authoring = my own internal thoughts shape my meaning-making

I wonder if Facebook and social media are causing us to move backwards or get stuck in the “socialized” level. I think the voices on the outside are given more opportunity to drown out the internal voice.

The question is, are we wrong for being the loud external voice? With this election and other social issues that are happening right now, are our constant posting of opinions and biased information bringing others down? Is this ok?

Shouldn’t we be looking for ways, especially as educators, to bring others to the self-authoring level? Our posts and comments that are constantly trying to sway others to our “side” is hurting others internal voice. You may be at the “self-authoring” level but that does not mean your beliefs are the only ones out there. It is ok to share your opinions and ideas. We all should, as well as encourage our students to, share. But we have to be careful to think that our meaning-making is the only one out there. While influencing others is great, we have to step back and allow others a chance to listen to their internal voice. 

Last week a teacher left a nasty comment on my blog. I thought it funny at first, but then started to get angry the more I thought about it. I was not angry because of what she said, I was angry because she never questioned, just commented and insulted. She thought her way was correct without trying to see why I write like I do. Before correcting, we need to question. Why do you say that? What influenced your thinking? Those are better than just saying “I disagree and you are wrong.” (Or better yet, I shouldn’t be an educator.)

It is a hard balance to balance these two mindsets but it is something we need to be mindful of. We should strive to question and listen not overwhelm and push. The next generation, as well as our peers, need to grow their way, not ours.

Just my thoughts. Of course you are welcome to have your own 😉

Compliance and Grades

Welcome back to school! I love back to school season. All the fun school supplies. I especially love the back to school pictures of everyone’s kids on social media. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post on social media about those first day of school letters from teachers to parents and students. Those letters are usually full of procedures, FAQ, standards, etc. I love the “I don’t give homework” ones and I love the ones where you can tell the teachers are excited about the upcoming year. But I’m seeing another trend. A trend of teachers sending home procedures that are linked to grades. Those have really made me pause. Pause and reflect on things I did wrong as a teacher as well as what grades are in general.

Now I’m just going to put this disclaimer out there and get it over with, I know some of you hate grades and think we should all be standards based or whatever. This is not about that so don’t go there. Some teachers don’t get a choice. My focus is on making that choice wisely.

OK now that is out of the way, back to those lovely parent letters and procedures. I’ve seen posts about bathroom passes costing points. If paper is not headed correctly. Turned into the wrong place. Not done in pencil (seriously it’s 2016). Notebooks not in correct order. Tardiness adding up. Class Dojo points added to grade. List goes on and on.

I had my own quirks as a teacher. I took off points after a week late. I gave homework then gave grades for students just finishing it, not on correctness. I stopped giving homework because I realized I was just giving grades for those that had parents at home not for learning.

One post about restroom passes equally bonus points, a teacher replied that she didn’t do this but had 56 students a day and needed them to help organization. I wish I had had 56 students, I had 156, but organization can’t be my focus of the day.

So let’s stop for one minute. Forget all I said above and remember why we have school. What is the point? Why do we have grades? I had a teacher ask me last week why I started using Google Drive. I told her because I felt like my classroom was becoming more of a place for me to work instead of a place for my students to learn so I had to make it more streamlined and less about paperwork.  But that is a huge problem. We are putting so much on teachers that schools are becoming a workplace not a learning place. That stress and burden is then reflected in our grading system.

We have to stop and think, “does this grade reflect learning or does it reflect learning?” If it is about completion, behavior, etc, it’s not about learning. Yes we need order to have a safe place to learn, but what you see as organization is not clear organization for some of your students. Think about students with ADHD. Those that don’t know me, I’m huge advocate for kids with ADHD because there is so much more that goes on in their brains than just paying attention. Now look at that list in the 2nd paragraph. Heading papers – Yeah speed isn’t on their side, your heading just added 10 to 20 minutes of procrastination to their assignment. Restroom – please spend a week on ADHD meds and tell me how your stomach feels after the lunchroom. Notebooks and tardiness – not even going to touch organization and timeliness. Dojo –  just stop. The list goes on and on. Same thing could be said for kids with disabilities. Dyslexia. Autism. ESL.

So our grades are going to reflect two things, compliance or learning. If your grades are reflecting compliance, kids are going to be resentful. They are going to give up because it really doesn’t matter if they study because they can still have a low grades. It also is doing the opposite. It’s allowing students to show up to your class and pass with high grades but not learn what is needed to move to the next course. How many times have you gotten a group of students and they didn’t know the basics from the year before and you wanted to blame that teacher last year. Maybe the kids didn’t learn, they just headed their papers pretty and didn’t use restroom passes to make that 60 to move on.

Be mindful of what your expectations are for your class. Be mindful of your grades. Before you put in that grade book or mark of a paper, ask yourself if you can prove the student learned something here. If not, reevaluate. We want learners not compliant little people. Isn’t that what the entire school reform movement is all about, getting away from teaching students to be robotic factory workers but places for students to learn to be successful at their pace and skill levels?

Shifts, Growing Pains, Gold Medals, and Such

Ever have a time in your life when ideas, conversations, as well as changes were happening all around you? School starts back next week for my district. Through wrapping up all my summer learning and preparing tech changes in my district my head is over-flowing. All of it seems to be orbiting around without a star to pull it all together. It gets overwhelming. It causes mental exhaustion. Today I was having a voxer conversation and the person I was talking to started reflecting on what he was working on today and said something that may have sparked me a star. It totally stopped all the spinning and pulled it all together.

So this whole profound convo, he started talking about how hard it is to get people to move from what they know is not easy, you have to promise them it’s for certain reasons. The conversation went on to talk about how they will find reasons not to and why it is harder but sometimes the answer to why we make changes is because it creates something equal for everyone. And in the end it takes a culture shift.

And that right there sums up every single one of those satellites orbiting around in my mind. None of them colliding but every single one of them connected by the fact that if the change or shift happens we have made something more equal easier for others, and by others, I’m referring to those we are providing service to. Even if that means we have to go through growing pains during that shift.

The Olympics start this week. Gymnastics has always been my favorite event. I took gymnastics when I was younger and was even Jefferson County Schools 1st grade champion back in the day. Big deal, y’all. But here’s the cool thing about gymnastics, it’s a progressive sport. Every year the difficulty gets harder. Remember 1996 team in Atlanta? They were amazing. I remember sitting in a dorm lobby at cheer camp in front of a 24” TV with 100 other girls watching Kerri Strug on the vault. But the deal is, if someone this year did one of those routines in Rio, no one would close to getting a gold. What was once almost impossible is now less than normal.

Education needs progressive. What was gold standard 20 years ago shouldn’t be gold this year. Our world is changing constantly. Education has to keep up. Few weeks ago I went to a viewing of  “Most Likely to Succeed.” I could write for days about that movie but one thing that stuck out to me was what was said about jobs today. They no longer need muscle power and mental power. Sit on that for one minute. We don’t have many jobs done by hand that are not being replaced by machines. We don’t have many jobs that need memorization of facts, we can Google that.  What do our jobs today need? Critical thinkers. Problem solvers. Yet how much of our schools are changing? Are we still training compliant workers or are we encouraging problem solvers? I’ve had 3 convos over last month about discipline and classroom management and I kept getting feedback about more rules or procedures. Each time I wanted to just scream “or just change how you do school!” but I didn’t. I wasn’t in that position. But we can’t still expect kids to sit in desk all day and be compliant but not expect them to act out due to boredom and frustration. We have to engage all learners. We must make that shift to make school equal for all students. We must shift until all students leave with equal opportunities. There are going to be a lot of growing pains but we have to get there.

So while our education needs to be progressive, technology already is. Technology is changing at insane rate (that’s called Moore’s Law which is that processing speed doubles every 18 months). So while technology is changing and we can’t accurately predict trends, there are people (like me) so study these trends. I saw a Time Hop post the other day that was from 8 years ago, I posted on Facebook that Google Forms or Soho forms had the abilities to change my life. If you know me, Google Forms controls my life. That also means I’ve been using Google Docs for 8 years. Sometimes when we need to make a shift in technology, it’s not because it can do the same thing as another, it is because it will make the playing field equal. Yes Word and Docs do similar things, but which one is accessible to most students? Where can teachers post reminders that will reach all students? What is collaborative and able to support progressive education? Sometimes the adults must go through technology growing pains to support students in the future.

All of this to say, we need schools to shift. Technology and our world outside school is changing rapidly. That means we have to get out of the “way it has always been” mindset and start moving forward as quickly as everything around us. Prepare for growing pains because in the end when we see how equal opportunities for all makes a difference, it will all be worth it. And if you are not ready for change, then move out of the way. Are you ready to grow. 

*I didn’t name who I has this convo with because it was a private convo. But if he reads this and decides he wants credit for brilliance, I’ll edit*

Know When It’s Time To Get Out Of The Rain

Have you ever gotten stuck in the rain? I live in the south and most summer days there is a rain shower around 5:00. Where I live in Alabama we actually get more rain than Seattle. So I rarely leave home without an umbrella or rain jacket. The problem is rain jackets and umbrella don’t ever really keep you dry. Your feet, legs, and face will always be wet no matter what. The only way to stay dry, to stay inside.

I love social media. It’s a huge part of my day. I’m one who sees the benefits and have preached the goodness before hashtag were a thing. Through it I connect with others and have some amazing conversations that challenge my thinking and professional practice. With the mainstream of social media it has become a place to get world and local news real time. No more waiting until 5:00 to hear what is going on with the world. And that keeps us in the know and aware at all times. Last week while in Denver there was an active shooter in the area and I could watch the tweets and knew what was happening and where. This is a huge positive in our society.

Umbrella

But there is something different when it comes to this type of “journalism.” When you watch the 6:00 news the news anchor reads the facts (usually). If there is a house fire on 4th Avenue, they read there is a house fire on 4th Avenue and probably tell you that first responders are on the scene. No opinions up front. If a person on social media posts they may post that same report but with their own post with an opinion. For example they could post the link to the info about the fire with the comment “this is my aunt’s house, pray for her during this time.” That post will probably get shared with sympathy and people offering to help. Those emotions are now tied to the story. But someone could take the same story and say “this house is my neighbor. It is a known meth lab. Hope the dealers are caught.” That post of the same news story would probably spark rants about drug use in a neighborhood and negative comments. Same story but when human opinion comes into play, the reaction of others differs, is shared, and more opinions given.

This past week many dark and terrible stories have broke. The stories reported were not just of someone losing their lives but are posted with opinions in forms of videos, memes, etc. The opinions and lack of facts spark anger beyond just the anger of what has happened because others’ emotions are muddled in. The emotions and opinions start taking on the headlines and the facts and information gets lost.

Remember above when I mentioned getting stuck in a rain shower? When you are out and the first few drops hit we are usually able to grab cover and get inside with just a few drops on us. Those news stories and the emotions with them are like those rain drops. The smart thing to do when it starts, take a few drops in, pay attention, but grab cover before you get drenched. If you get stuck walking home without a rain jacket, those few drops eventually add up and your entire body becomes drenched. When tragedy that is controversial or can have high emotions happen, you need to take cover and get out. Stop standing there and letting it drench you. Because those emotions build and get stronger until they turn into an obsession. Do you need to stand up for what’s right? Heck yes, but we don’t need to add to the situation.

As educators or parents or just humans around children, we need to teach them how to turn it off. Literacy now includes how to find the real information in a sea of opinions. This is a life skill that needs to be taught in every classroom. There also need to be guidance on how to get out of the tragedy in front of them on the screens and get out in their community to take stands and remember there is good still out there.

I didn’t write this to belittle horrific events but I write this to remind us all to step back. Look at facts before opinions. Live life. Take a deep breath. For the sake of sanity. Then later after your emotions are in check, look for ways to make a difference, to have your voice heard. Social media is not the only place. More good will be done in your community telling the stories that are real and happening around you. Understand that hate isn’t the answer. Understand others. And most importantly, empathy. This is the generation we need to be bringing up.

It’s Not About the Tools… Or Is It? #ISTE2016

Over the last few days I’ve been in Denver for the ISTE Conference, along with 15,000 or so other educators. This is a tech conference. Yeah it gets geeky. Every year I go to sessions or walk through the vendor hall and get frustrated at the pitches of next best thing that will change education (and usually cost you a fortune). I get frustrated when I heard proposals from friends that were rejected because they didn’t focus on an app or a website. I even wrote a blog post about it one year after leaving the conference.

Hand drawn ISTE logo

But if you know me, you know that when I see that I’m wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. You see a big part of learning during ISTE for me is from conversations with my brilliant friends who are also my mentors. During a late night convo with Dean Shareski and Brent Catlett about 1:1 and getting teachers and leaders to use technology, Dean said something that really stuck with me (not surprising, he’s had more influence on me than anyone else in this field). He said that, it has to be about the technology, we can’t just ignore what is there. And he’s right. Sometimes schools and districts get so caught up in changing the pedagogy and how we teach that we forget to show the what and how when it comes to technology.

Yes, we have got to change schools and what is happening in the classrooms. It can no longer be “sit and get,” students need to be creating, discovering the world beyond 4 walls of a classroom, and taking charge of their learning, I think everyone is getting this, but this cannot be at the level kids deserve without technology. We put so much time and money focusing on PBL and curriculum design but how much of that professional development includes new technology that can open doors for our students? Are instructional technology specialist in your district being tapped for this PD or is their PD always focused on “how to use” type training? I so often see the only time technology is used for PBL is to research and/or make a Google Slide to show what they know. If we are taking how we teach our students to another level, then we need to take how they use technology to that level as well.

Are you using robots to teach measurement, angles, and coding? Oh wait, most importantly, problem solving? Do your art students have an online digital portfolio? How often do your students collaborate online in a safe place? When you are teaching about a landform or country, do you just show pictures or videos or do you allow students to “visit” via Google Cardboard and now available Google Expeditions? Where in the country or world is that class that your class collaborates with located? How deep are your once a week digital citizenship conversations with students? Do you allow students to use Desmos for free when they can’t afford a graphing calculator? Did your students bubble in answers to show reading comprehension or did sock puppets give you a recap?

The technology is there, so much of it becoming so affordable and available. Everything I mentioned above is something your classroom or school can afford. It kind of is about those tools because without them your students loose that empowerment and can do those skills. Should the tools be your main focus? Should you plan your lessons around that cool new app? No way but you can’t use that as an excuse to not use it. Your students deserve better.

Middle School is Weird

I’m back. Or so I hope. I have been struggling with writing here. I have ideas but not the energy or time. Now school is out and summer is here, I will be finding that time.

Over the last few months I have been in a few situations that have all lead to conversations about Middle School students and what makes them different. Here in the US, middle school is some how the “forgotten” group in our education system. Even education prep mostly focuses on elementary or secondary (which is usually high school focused). But you see, middle school is this own special, weird, time that does not fit with either of those. I worry that this is the time we are losing the students because the education system does not support this group and I feel like those teachers get less support.

My only explanation for this, middle schoolers are weird. They are not just starting out, babies. They are not getting ready to move on to the rest of their lives. They are just the “Jan Brady” of education. The issue is, if we lose them now, we may not get them back.

A few months ago, I spoke at Bright Bytes Institute about Middle School and STEM. Here are just a few of those thoughts that I talked about that day.

Middle Schoolers are Awkard. Think back on your yearbook picture from middle school. Told you, awkward. They are not used to these new bodies they are getting. They fall because their feet grew before the rest of them, their clothes fit weird, the boys are usually shorter than the girls, they have braces… The list goes on and on. So try to remember that when you are dealing with them on a personal basis. This awkwardness leads to insecurity, the insecurity leads to being defensive, defensiveness leads to drama, drama leads to no one listing to anything you say in your classroom. There is a lot of drama, no one wants to learn in the midst of it. So be prepared.

Early Middle School is before stereotypes are ingrained in their mind. Middle schoolers have not yet developed stereotypes for “roles” in life. What I mean by that, they are not completely sold that computers are for nerds, choir is for girls, basketball is for certain races, etc. They are still open to exploring. This is the best time to give students a chance to discover what they love to do. Get girls hooked into a STEM class. Get athletic boys in a music class. Many middle schools have “exploratory” for electives where students rotate through a variety of electives throughout the year. Other schools have “club day” or “genius hour” to provide students with time to discover their talents and passions. While this happens at many grade levels, it can have most impact on middle school students.

They have been playing school for 6 years.  For six years they have gone from pre-school where they learned through play, to 5th grade where they are learning from texts, worksheets, and being assessed on tests. Not always, but in general. Moving to middle school gives them that opportunity to start over. They are in a new environment, new teachers, new classmates, so start new. This is a great place to break that learned schooling and give students chances to learn in new ways. Don’t use middle school as a place to prepare for lectures in high school. Use this time to REMIND students how to learn naturally.

They smell bad. If you ever walk into a you know that distinct smell. Shudder. Only thing worse than the smell, is that smell on taco salad day in 100F August after PE. But I’m not here to make fun, the smell, is their body going through puberty. When they go through this, yes hormones change. But those hormonal changes cause changes in their brains as well. These are some of the effects:

They lose a lot of short term memory. They really did forget about your test, their homework, etc. It is crazy that they forget. Also, it would drive me crazy that teachers would require the students to carry these planners to prevent that. The problem, they never remembered to bring the planner to class, if they did, they forgot to get it out and put the HW in there, and if they actually did all of those things, they would lose them in the locker. I’ve known teachers to give grades based on this. Is that punishing students for something they can’t help? My solution, use Google Calendar or Google Classroom. One thing they never forget, their phones. Really, just stop with the homework. They are not going to do it.

They are unorganized. They just are at that age. Open one locker, you will probably find at least 4 coats, 2 pairs of shoes, and enough socks for the entire football team. So please stop with notebooks with 5 tabs or all subjects in one. They don’t put things in the right tabs. They take the paper out and then just shove it in when the bell rings, etc. Just use a spiral notebook where they one a page at a time. And whatever you do, stop giving notebook checks for grades. STOP.

Lastly, a product of going through these hormonal changes, increase in oxytocin. Oxytocin has been called the “hug hormone.” In adults, it is released after, um, trying to keep this PG, “loving.” Maybe you get that. So this hormone causes our brain to need relationships. That is why people declare being in love after “loving.” In middle schoolers, it causes them to need relationships. Children this age will put relationships with others over academic success. So what can we do about this? If they need social interaction and need to be with others, then this is why group work at this age is more than just learning to collaborate. It is how they function. It fulfills that need. If you don’t, they will just talk and form those relationships while you are trying to have class, so have this need work for you.

So these are just a few things when thinking about middle school students. I could go one for pages and pages on why they are so unique. But who wants to read that?! If you are a middle school teacher, work with middle school teachers, or involved in making decisions about curriculum in middle schools, please keep their uniqueness in mind.

Lastly, can you solve this? I always wonder, was I this weird before I started teaching middle school and they rubbed off on me or do I teach middle school because I get the weird. I think all middle school teachers can relate to that question. More soon everyone and enjoy the start of summer!

There Are No Underdogs

I’m going to write this and it is not going to be easy. And if he was still alive he’d be so angry at me for writing it, but he left me here on earth with just memories so he gets no say. That “he” is Dean Taylor. He died Saturday morning in a car wreck. And he was my friend. My one of my best friends. He was also a dad that loved his son so much and a businessman always looking for investments. Dean was a school board member in my district, the board president at one time, which is why not many knew of our friendship, politics are blah. But it is funny, we became friends because he was always trying to learn more about education and always had questions, but in the end he taught me so much more.

You see, he was so proud to be a board member. Think of that one person that you know that puts their all into their job, that was him. He told me a few times that he went to a ribbon cutting one day and went to bed that night a politician. But more times than that he would say that he was there to make a difference. He was a dad and wanted for his son what every parent wants, but he had the position to make sure it happened not only for his son but for everyone’s sons and daughters. All 37,000 sons and daughters, as he would say. He would tell stories of how he was not supposed to be as successful as he was (he was a pretty successful businessman and never took it for granted) and he wanted every kid in the district to know that if he could do it, they could too. I would get so mad at him for putting himself down and he’d get mad at me for making that comment and say it isn’t about him. He was in the Air Force and would tell me stories from war and end by saying that God didn’t let him die because he was supposed to be there to fight for kids like him. Every single war story ended with that. He believed and he lived to complete that mission.

But here was the thing, while he was always about the “underdog,” he never once treated anyone as the underdog. He knew every single maintenance worker by name. Was actually became close friends with many of them. He would bring them water in the summer. He would mention them when telling me a story and act like I was weird because I did not know them.  He would compliment custodians on how clean their school was. He ate in a school lunchroom at least once a week, usually more, and would not only sit with the kids but compliment the staff on the great food. He went from unknown new school board member to in the press every week because when we had cut backs and the majority of secretaries in our district were going to lose their jobs, he fought until the cuts were rescinded.

He had this amazing ability to make whoever he was meeting feel like what they were saying was the most important. He was in the schools, all 56. He’d ask me everyday, “what school did you visit today?” And then “Did you talk to ___?” I’d answer then ask him the same. He was in the schools as much as me but had the gift of meeting so many more people when there. Those people were important to him. He let them know how important they were.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

He made students feel the same way. I was looking through pictures today and saw the one above and could hear him asking the kids to explain how it works. A friend told me yesterday he was supposed to be at her school next week to talked to a group of boys that were always in trouble. He worried about those students more than any. He worried that too often we focused on the kids that were gifted or already college bound and left the rest behind. He would talk often about how he never had teachers that believed in him when in school. We always had that in common. One teacher even wrote in his yearbook about how he would not succeed. It crushed him, but mostly gave him the push to become the man he was. But he would say that he never wanted a student to feel that ever again. He wanted kids to have someone to believe in them. He wanted them to know that college was not always for everyone and that was ok. He was telling a class the other day that each of them could be anything they wanted, and he truly believed it.

He was always on a mission to help someone. He would do the kindest things but usually did them secretly. He would call me and ask what type of tech would a certain school needs because “rumor” was that a teacher was about to get it anonymously. That was him.

He was a huge supporter of STEM in schools. He knew that it would reach students that textbooks didn’t. We would talk STEM all day. He loved LEGOs. Like always had a LEGO minifigure in his pocket. He had 100s. So makerspaces were a natural draw for him. He loved it all from coding (he was the biggest supporter in my district for Hour of Code) to 3D printers. He was always trying to figure out how to get more in our schools and if you asked him why, he would talk about the importance of it and how it would reach all students. All students. That was important to him.

He’d be the first to admit when he was wrong. He would tell me over and over that if I ever blamed others, then I was still at fault. He told me all the time that I had to find my issues first then I could blame others, but by then I knew it was my fault. Oh he’d make me so mad making me face my demons. But then he’d congratulate me when I would figure it out. I don’t like the thought of this cheerleader being gone.

In his honor I am going to remember the underdogs. Who are not really underdogs, because he was proof that anyone can do anything. He was proof that drive and self confidence is all you need. He had both. And maybe fake glasses that made you look smarter.

Goodbye my friend. You told me that we were separated at birth and I was the crazy twin. I will miss my twin. Though I only got to know you for a little over a year, you left your mark on me and I will forever remember to continue your legacy and treat the custodian like the CEO to be the voice for students that don’t have one. Also, I hope God had a closet full of shoes for you. Oh and yes I wrote this on my Macbook just for you.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.