“Be Stubborn About Your Goals and Flexible About Your Method.”

Earlier this week, I happened to see my new favorite quote on the walls of one of our fourth-grade classrooms:

“Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your method.”

-Author Unknown

This quote really got me thinking because it made me realize that while the way that we achieve our objectives may not be the way we thought we would get to our goal, that is part of the journey.

As we work on report cards and reflect on our year to date, in my mind, I am going to try to keep this idea fresh: our goals may not have been achieved how we thought they would be or within the timeline we expected, but how has our method evolved? How have we created more opportunities for ourselves along the way to meeting our goals? How has our mindset shifted? Have our priorities changed? Have we maybe gained new skills and knowledge that has helped us in other aspects of our lives? These are all questions that we can ask ourselves as we reflect on our progress and the progress of our learners.

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Website: Because I Said I Would

As I have connected with staff members, especially the staff members who are holding tryouts for theater and sports, a common thought was: “How will I get everyone to follow through on their commitment?” I was reminded about something that was shared at the end of last year…a website that made a brief appearance in one of our weekly update emails but I have yet to follow up on with our teachers. This website is called Because I Said I Would and it works to help “bridge the gap between intention and action.”

The premise is simple – this is a social movement meant to better our relationships and communities.  The quote below summarizes exactly what the Because I Said I Would movement is meant to do:

With a focus on core values like honesty, accountability and compassion, our aim is to help build stronger citizens through sharing stories of promises made and kept. We wrap the themes around students in schools by sending letters home with parents and providing resources like promise walls, coaches kits, and promise planners.

Because I Said I Would: https://becauseisaidiwould.com/

On the website, you will also see examples of different promise stories, some of which you may even choose to share with your students, character education lesson plans and a link to start your own chapter. Some of the stories that were shared made me tear up, other stories simply made me feel inspired to make a promise and be sure that I follow through on it. I have screen captured two of the promises that made me realize how effective and effortless this activity can be…

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The image above reminded me of a promise that I made just a few hours before writing to have lunch with someone and because I said I would, I will! 
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This image made me pause because there is a 7-year-old out there just excited to share her promises with the world

I wonder how starting this conversation in a trust circle would impact our school community. I am not saying that a majority of us do not already do what we say we will, I am saying that it is nice to be reminded of the power that our word and our commitment has on our community and our relationships. I am looking forward to keeping my promise cards in mind and asking myself…How I help others be more impeccable with their words and how will I help “bridge the gap between intention and action?”

Book Review – A Letter to My Teacher

At the Feaster Book Fair, I picked up an adorable book that helped me keep perspective on a tough day and  helped me remember to be empathetic even when I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed. The book, A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, is a great reminder about why we have patience and positivity even when we are exhausted. Throughout the book, an active and curious student seems to test her teacher’s patience with every chance she gets. With the best of intentions, this young learner causes what could be chaos, except the teacher uses such positivity and care every time that she responds to the misbehaviors of this young learner.

Building Relationships

“When I slipped away to look for hidden treasure in the root cellar, you and the whole class had to trudge down the old stone steps to find me. I think even you lost your patience that time.  ‘Exasperating’ was the word you used. I remember because that night my mom helped me look it up in the dictionary.’

Deborah Hopkinson

I feel like every teacher who dreads a field trip can relate to this quote! However, from this page, it is clear that the teacher has made a positive impact on this child. Even though they clearly had a conversation about a tough moment, it is evident from the way the student went home and looked up the word that there is a strong relationship. I was left predicting how this positive relationship was built…here are my best predictions:

  • Teacher assumes positive intent when the student is “acting out”
  • Strengths are recognized and applied to learning experiences
  • Student’s interests are understood and connected to learning
  • Patience is used and explanations about expectations are clear
  • The teacher uses creative responses when discussing inappropriate or dangerous  behavior

I see these events happening all the time on our campus – where teachers are focused on making learning applicable to each individual student! Just this past Friday, I was hearing a story about how a teacher makes her kindergarten students so intrigued in everything by sharing exciting stories about the most random things; for example, by telling the students how special the assignment they are working on is because it is their chance to show how their brains are growing. Every teacher has these moments when they know they have made a connection and tapped into the individual child. I encourage you to take the time to reflect on those!

 

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Recognizing and Applying Strengths

“Thanks to the math games we played, measuring our garden boxes was easy.”

Deborah Hopkinson

One of the things that we focus on at Feaster is being able to recognize and apply the strengths of each of our learners. We do this through applying RIASEC, having conversations with our students about what they enjoy, listening to what they share, making connections to their interests in academic ways and just by being available for them when we know they need us. We prepare our students for those moments when we know that they will have to rely on their academic intelligence to apply their learning from years ago. We support them and help them grow to experience every positive opportunity possible. This is what we do when we bring all of the programs to Feaster (ie Mindlabs, VAPA, STEM, STEAM, Feaster Farm with the chicken coop, hydroponic greenhouse and the tilapia pond, our after school clubs, our athletics programs, our band, our dance performances, our engineering lab, our science lab, our technology on site…) because we are focused on the learners and making sure that they grow academically, socially and emotionally.

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I would highly recommend this book to any teacher who wants to read a sweet story that will remind you why you have so much patience. This book is perfect for those days when you are exhausted yet you know that you have done great work and that it will show through in your learners and the community you have built. This is a reminder that when we build relationships with our kids, we are doing more than just getting to know them, we are helping them have a more effective learning experience and we are influencing their view of education and learning in general. I am proud of our Feaster staff for being like the teacher in this book – patient, caring, creative, full of positive intent and focused on what is important. Thank you, Feaster teachers!

 

Side note – if you are interested in reading this book, come see me in room 903! 🙂

Self Care and Mindfulness PD – Reflection

Our final self care PD was focused on Mindfulness with Renée Lewis from UCSD who  joined us to give some suggestions on managing stress. One of the points that Renée made was about not being able to be completely free from stress but instead focusing on skills and strategies that will better help us manage our stress. The ideas and practices that we learned during our PD will not work for everyone every single time but they are strategies to try out and get into the habit of especially when times get stressful. Knowing yourself and having ideas for how to manage stress is important and actually utilizing those strategies and making them part of your regular self care routines is equally as important.


Happify

One of the first things that we did was watch a video from Happify which is a free* (*with a premium version available) program that offers different “tracks” that will support you with self care and mindfulness goals. You can create a free account by going to the Happify website and answering a few questions about your personal goals. Each track has activities that you can complete that match your personal goals. The tracks have videos and activities that you can complete at your own pace.

“Falling Awake”

During the meditation practices that Renée guided us through, she mentioned the idea of “falling awake.” This is where you are able to focus without your mind wandering. During this conversation, it was brought up that people who have a wandering mind are typically less happy (according to this Harvard Gazette article). This study resulted in the development of an app that can actually “track your happiness,” so it is appropriately titled, Track Your Happiness.

When we are falling awake, we are making sure that we are giving ourselves the ability and permission to be totally present on what is in front of us. By getting ourselves into the habit of being able to focus and limit mind wandering, we are more likely to increase our happiness in general. This can be done by getting into the mindset of “falling awake” and practicing mindfulness skills like meditation.

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Wandering Mind not a Happy Mind

Stress Reaction Cycle and Stress Reduction Practices

There are several ways that people deal with stress – maladaptive behaviors are strategies that are sometimes used which can be negative if done too often or without self control, these maladaptive behaviors often end up causing more stress. When we look at managing stress, we want strategies and skills that are sustainable and that can be done anywhere. The stress reaction cycle is having a thought, feeling a physical change and responding to the thought. The order of the stress reaction cycle (thought, feeling, reaction) can be different for everyone and will vary in intensity for everyone. It is how we manage this stress reaction cycle ourselves that can have an impact on our general health and wellness.

Instead of developing habitual maladaptive behaviors, we can practice:

  • Mediation where we  practice being aware and doing breathing exercises
  • Biofeedback where we learn how to control some of our body’s basic functions like heart rate and breathing
  • Stretch breaks where we take a few moments and get blood flowing or just loosen up tight areas

Please note that not all of these stress management strategies will be effective for you and there are many other ways of managing stress besides what was addressed in our PD and what has been suggested in this blog. If you know that something does not work for you, do not do it and work to find other safe and healthy ways of managing stress.

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Stress is about how we react to a situation. We can develop skills within ourselves that will help us better manage stress. When we are able to manage our stress, we are in general happier and ready to face more challenges. Please share what works for you when managing stress; it might not work for everyone but it might be something that others have not yet considered!

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The Power of a Sincere Thank You

For those of you who regularly read our blog, this one is a little different. Instead of focusing on sharing programs and practices, this post is sharing a very human moment that I needed as a person. The overall purpose of this post is to share how a sincere thank you can turn someone’s day around…

It was Friday afternoon around 3:45, I was rushing to get everything done which, of course, I failed to do. It had been A DAY – from my phone accidentally dialing 911 as I walked on campus to what was supposed to be a 30 minute meeting turning into a 2 hour meeting where the overall objective was not even met. To say the least, I was feeling low and unproductive when I saw another teacher on campus. She had emailed me about a few things the night before. Feeling bad, knowing that I had not gotten to all of them that day, I told her what I had done to follow through on what was requested in the email – I knew I was telling her this more to make myself feel better than anything, I knew she didn’t and shouldn’t care what I had been doing – she cares, as everyone should, about whether or not it gets done and gets done correctly. She stopped, looked at me, and sincerely thanked me for a few things that I HAD actually done in the past. The thank you was so sincere that, in that moment, it actually made my thinking change.

For a second, instead, of mentally seeing everything on my list that still had not gotten checked off, I saw everything that I HAD checked off, I saw everything that HAD been added to my day that HAD been accomplished. This momentary mind-shift was so freeing because I was not thinking about my failure to complete certain things but I was thinking about my accomplishments in what I did and could complete.

So, what is it that made this particular thank you so powerful? I spent a lot of time over the weekend thinking about this…I think it had to be the specific details and the sincerity of it. The tone of voice, the body language, all of it showed that it was something that was truly heartfelt. It was not a simple, “Hey, thanks for doing that.” Instead, it was a full stop in everything else going on, eye contact, and specific details about what was appreciated.

I will be the first to admit that I am not great at quality thank you’s, but feeling the power that it can have has helped me want to be better at showing gratitude. I am not saying that everyone should go out and show sincere gratitude to every random person, that is just going to come off fake. What I am saying is that if you truly appreciate something, take the time to share it in a way that will make an impact – be clear and give detailed examples of how the act made you feel or how it helped you.

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2×10 Strategy & Restorative Practices

Over the course of our time implementing restorative practices, we have come to learn that this is not just a strategy but a part of our school’s culture. It is my personal opinion that at the core of restorative practices is building relationships that work to prevent harm and conflict from even occurring. When I say building relationships, I mean knowing our students beyond who they are in our classrooms. I see a lot of our teachers doing this – they sit and talk with their students when they are having a tough day, they show up on a Saturday for their student’s cross country meet, they stand outside to greet their kids as they come in (every single day, not just the first week, but consistently), they can tell you back stories for kids who are not even in their class and they show they care through their daily and consistent actions. We have so many teachers who are doing these things and working to build relationships with their kids to prevent conflict before it even happens. When we build those relationships and create a feeling of community, harm is less likely to occur because we do not want to hurt something that we feel we are a part of. So, the question is, how do we make sure that all of our students feel like they are part of our school culture and they help make our classroom communities positive?

Consistently using restorative practices (trust circles, buddy-up, affective statements, dual purpose lessons with connections to social emotional learning, pointing out examples of character strengths, and many more that you can read about in this old blog post) all work to start building these calming classroom cultures. However, what do we do when these strategies are “not enough” for some of our learners? We need to do something that is more personal and individualized.

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2×10 Strategy

The 2×10 strategy is an idea where educators spend two minutes a day for ten days in a row getting to know a student. This time should be spent talking with them about something they want to talk about. It does not need to be academic but it should be something that the student is interested in, within reason, of course. Hear the kid out and learn about what they are interested in.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a student who was waiting for their counseling session to start. I had always struggled with building a relationship with this particular student. I happened to be working on a music grant and I learned that this student was part of the our band program. I asked about what they needed and how adding more instruments would impact him personally. Over the next few, days, he came to me with more ideas and we worked together to create a quote from this student that explained the positive impact the grant would have if it provided instruments to our learners. Because of this 2×10 – 2 minutes a day talking about band instruments for 10 days – this student felt empowered and knew that I cared about their personal interests. This helped us build a more positive relationship.

I am not saying that every conversation has to result in a product. Instead, it should be natural and heartfelt instead of forced and fake. Below are some generic conversation starters to get this going (be sure to tweak these so they match your natural speaking style):

  • I would really appreciate knowing more about ____.
  • I am so proud of how you ____.
  • How did ____ go?
  • Tell me about something you did recently that you enjoyed.
  • What are you thinking?
  • I thought of you yesterday when _____.
  • I appreciate _____.
  • I noticed _____.
  • I remember you mentioning that you ______, how is that going?

Critics of this strategy point to fact that this is taking away from instructional time; however, if behavior is extreme, that is taking a lot more than two minutes of your instructional time in your classroom to resolve. Angela Watson wrote a great blog post titled Overcoming 3 Biggest Obstacles in Building Relationships with Kids where some of your questions and concerns may be addressed.


With the trauma that children experience today, the 2×10 strategy can help them recognize the safe places we have on campus and help open up communication and build trust and a sense of community.

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*All pictures include Feaster teachers, Ms. Bates, Mr. Thorburn and Ms. Cortez working to build relationship with individual students.

Last Week of School

IMG_4169.jpgWith the last week of school quickly approaching, we have so many exciting activities planned! This is one of my favorite times of the year because we are able to explore new activities and see what may be beneficial for our students next year. We can also get that continuous feedback from our students about what they will remember most from this school year.

Below are some activities that you can use to integrate the learning your students have attained throughout this school year.

STEM

  • Genius Hour: students choose something they are passionate about to research and explore
  • STEM Challenge: have students reflect on a problem that is connected to something they have learned about, challenge them to create a solution where they use the engineering and design process to build their solution

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Reflect on the activities that you will see during the STEM Expo this year!

VAPA

  • Music: challenge students to create a song that summarizes their experiences in your class
  • Theater: students create a short skit about their learning experiences
  • Dance: give students a change to create a collaborative dance where each kid makes a movement and they work together to put the moves into a dance

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Have students create a VAPA presentation based on their reading

Character Strengths

  • Minute to Win It: students compete in various challenges and learn the necessary character strengths that are needed to be successful when facing something challenging
  • Notes: have students write anonymous notes to each other that are focused on the character strengths that each student represents
  • Letters to the Future: give students some time to write a letter to your next year’s class. They can share some of the exciting things they have learned and some of the great experiences they will have while in your class

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Students create a project based on their favorite SEL book


Now is the chance to try out anything new! Explore with your group now and let them know that they can have a huge impact on what and how your next class learns as well!