March is a Long Month for Teachers-Time to Celebrate!

During my first year as a special education teacher, I worked at a project improvement school in a low-income area.  I had 15 students with IEPs in 5th grade (mostly boys).

The pressure was on to bring up test scores. One could feel the tension in the hallways.

A big wig administrator was called in to increase test scores and rescue the school from project improvement status. She was a force in a pantsuit and high heels. She didn’t care about beautiful bulletin boards or pleasantries.

During my orientation in her office, I remember her saying that she didn’t want me to respond with “Thank you” to any emails because it cluttered up her inbox.

Despite her commitment to improving test scores she was the only teacher or administrator I have ever known who left right at dismissal every day to go for a run.

I had some interesting experiences that year that shaped who I would become and who I would not become.  In all the high stakes test score staff meetings, I learned to value the writings of Robert Marzano. One of the most powerful things he writes is that if 50% or more of students fail in a specific area, it’s the teacher that didn’t teach (Paraphrased from Marzano’ book The Art and Science of Teaching, 2007).

More about Marzano (click here)

I also learned the power of relationships with even the most emotionally disturbed students.  

The best take away from that year was my principal’s insistence on celebrating student achievement.

It is a principle that I incorporate into my planning whenever possible.

Students in special education often make smaller gains over time compared to peers, but each small gain deserves celebrating.  

March is a long month wedged between cold season and spring break.  It’s ideal for measuring growth and for celebrations!

Some Kindergarteners may learn to point to letters before they are able to state letter names and sounds.

It might take the neediest student 2-3 years to make one year’s growth in reading compared to peers.

For others, learning to write a paragraph independently is akin to climbing Everest.

From lunchtime ice cream parties with special guests to a game of St. Patrick’s Day charades, each achievement deserves celebrating.

March is one of those times for many of my students.

Celebrations conquer discouragement and allow us as educators and parents to compare a child’s growth to where they began rather than comparing them solely to peers.

If there is a child in your life who struggles with learning, look back at September and find an achievement to celebrate with them.  I can guarantee it will be easier than finding a four-leaf clover!

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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Update:

I will only be writing one post per month.  During the remaining weeks, I’ll be spending more time developing resources for new special education teachers through a Youtube channel I am developing.  Stay tuned for the launch.

Slow. Show. Check.

This has been the rainiest SoCal winter in over a decade.  Our neighbor’s brick wall tumbled down under the weight of wet mud. The parking lot in front of our house developed two sink holes.  I’ve relented by keeping my snow boots at work for rainy afternoons.

While I am grateful for the end of the drought, one thing that stands out is the need to go slowly because of the change in weather.  On a normal SoCal morning, rushing is the norm, but it’s dangerous to rush during bad weather.  Rushing on the freeway will easily result in hydroplaning or worse.

Slow=careful.  

Slow=safe.

Slowing down probably isn’t so bad for us. It reminds me that our snow-bound neighbors must adjust to long winters, plan ahead for being stuck inside, and cut out all unnecessary activities.  Slowing down may even = more quality time at home.

Going slowly sounds easy, but for many struggling learners, it’s the opposite.  This is why I developed the phrase, “Slow, Show, Check,” as a self-monitoring strategy for my students.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that the majority of mistakes on tests and assignments in the mainstream classroom are due to rushing, not showing work, and not checking it over.  This is the same for all types of learners. Some students can be exceptionally bright and bomb a test because they want to be the first one done.

It’s not a race. Slooooooow down. (Try saying it in your best Teacher voice).

So just like with inclement weather, students will have better outcomes when they learn “Slow, Show, Check.”

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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Courageous Love-A Story for Valentine’s Day

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I have this friend that I met when I was 10. She is the only friend from that era of my life that I regularly see and it is always a joy when we meet.  

She is a success story. She entered our lives shortly after my dad died because she needed unconditional love and my mom welcomed her whenever she wanted to stop by or needed advice. We didn’t have much, but we had the love of Jesus to share with her.

She struggled to learn.

She struggled with men.

She struggled with raising kids alone.

Yet she persevered.

Fast forward 27 years.  We are both moms and wives. She has six beautiful kids and is remarried to a man who loves her and values her for all she is.

When I think about all she has gone through, I feel blessed to know her.  

She has a sense of compassion that comes from suffering.

She speaks truth because she knows the damage of lies.

She works hard and instills the same ethic in her children because she knows that hard work pulled her out of a pit of despair and prevented her from depending on undependable men.

She told me once that she couldn’t learn in school for years because all she could think about was whether she’d be beaten when she got home.

As a teacher, I am thankful that few (if any) of my students fear abuse in this way.  

Maria’s story is one of resilience-a resilient desire to overcome life’s pitfalls. It’s a story birthed in courageous love-more courageous because my mom opened her home and heart to a broken teenager. Her story is a reminder of the power of open doors and hearts combined with courageous love.

As parents, to whom can we offer courageous love?  

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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Why Saying, “Do What Makes You Happy” Is Dangerous

 

Two weeks ago, my William was sporting a 10-year-old attitude when asked to complete his chores.

I waited him out, asked what his plan was, and reminded him of the consequence for his rudeness.

Grumpy pouty face ensued.

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He even took a nap to avoid the work.

A few hours later he awoke, spontaneously apologized for his behavior and asked, “Mom will you forgive me?”

It was one of the first times he apologized spontaneously after avoiding an expectation.

Educators like to call this behavior ‘work avoidance.’

It’s one of the 2 major behaviors observed in students.

“But I don’t want to.”

Or

“I don’t like it.”

Oh well. Bummer.

Without the ability to do the right thing regardless of how they feel, kids learn to be ruled by feelings. They learn that if they feel like it in the moment, then it’s the right thing to do.

But what if it’s the wrong thing?

What if feelings deceive us and leave us on a hamster wheel constantly seeking happiness, but never finding contentment.

Sadly, this is the case for many students. In elementary school, they can’t articulate this. But, students then grow and become adults who never learn to mature beyond their feelings.

Avoiding what we do not like turns into a lifetime of self-fulfilling behavior.

“Do what makes you happy” is a statement disguised in one of the biggest lies we can communicate to this generation.

It communicates that happiness, that feelings, equal fulfillment.

How about, “Do what’s right, regardless of how you feel in the moment.”

It’s not as popular, not as catchy, and Sheryl Crow’s spunky song definitely wouldn’t fit the lyrics, but it’s an important discussion among parents and educators.

“If it makes you happy
It can’t be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad” (If It Makes You Happy (Crow 1996).

A fulfilled life with quality relationships demands contentment.

It requires thinking beyond the surface.

It requires an ability to do the right thing anyway, regardless of how one might feel about it.

I don’t wish that my students will be happy. I hope that they will choose contentment by learning to persevere past their feelings-by learning to do the right thing, even if it feels too hard.

A tall order?

Yes.

Possible?

Yes.

Only if it’s expected.

Only if we stop saying, “Do what makes you happy.”

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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What is “The Grace of Disability?”

This week I’ve chosen to retreat from my Facebook newsfeed and spend more time reading scripture and a good book.  If you’re like me, your Facebook feed may reflect a civil war. Even if I’m only looking at it 5 minutes a day, the negativity is draining.

I’d like to raise a white flag with some alternative reflective thoughts today.

For years I’ve thought about how we value life in the church and how that perspective should come with an automatic value for all life no matter how much it stretches us.

It’s easier to value children that are easy, that don’t disrupt our church services and that allow us to stay in our comfort zones.

Yet…life is rarely that way.  For those of us that value life in all forms, parenting may come with surprises that rock our sense of comfort and shape our perspective.

In the book, Good Faith, by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, Gabe writes about the gift of his son Cade, who has Down Syndrome with a section titled, “The grace of disability.”

“Cade would be our teacher.  He would help us throw off the performance-based measuring stick in the fire.

People like Cade disrupt and redefine society’s definition of human value.

While he does, technically speaking, have a ‘disability,’ our family, friends, and community recognize his gifts and unique abilities. On the streets of Manhatttan, Cade never met a stranger.  Always quick to interrupt a self-consumed soul, he would insist that passersby remove their headphones and speak a hello to his waving hand. In subways, he would crowd onto any inch of plastic seat he could spot, often to the initial dismay of a distracted and defensive passenger.  But Cade could sense their temperament and would make every effort to connect.  More often than not, they would reciprocate the attention and a beautiful moment would happen.

This is the upside-down way of Jesus that makes a world in which disability is a grace.

This is the grace of the disabled among us.

They show us our own insufficiencies.

They teach us how to have joy in any circumstance.

They reshape our definition of perfect.

They alter career paths and require families to work together.

They invite us to engage instead of simply walking by.

They love unconditionally, asking little in return.

In a 2015 episode of The Liturgists podcast on the topic of abortion, musician Michael Gungor, who also has a child with Down syndrome, told a story about his wife, Lisa, who was at a support meeting for moms with Down kids.  The group was meeting in a coffee shop, and a woman who was walking by asked what they were meeting about.  When the group leader explained what had brought the moms together, the woman said, ‘Oh.  I thought they just took care of that nowadays.’  

At its worst, our culture diminishes the value of those who don’t immediately appear to ‘benefit’ anyone…Every human being, no matter his or her number of chromosomes is indelibly imprinted with God’s image and is therefore of infinite worth. (Good Faith, 2016).

Infinite worth.

That is the value of life.

I leave you to ponder, how can we find “the grace of disability” in our everyday lives?

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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Read more of Good Faith here:

http://goodfaithbook.org/

 

5 Things Your Kids Can do to Make Mornings Easier

After you have a baby, you quickly learn that it takes 3 times as long to leave the house.  Between feedings, tantrums, and the multitudes of stuff you need, this phase of life has a mind of its ow…

Source: 5 Things Your Kids Can do to Make Mornings Easier

Why Accepting Correction as a Teacher Is What Students Need Most

Why Accepting Correction as a Teacher is What Students Need Most

This time of year there is a lot of pressure for teachers.

Pressure to see our students excel.

Pressure to see if our hard work shows.

Pressure to see if they have made growth on assessments.

In the midst of that pressure, one thing stands in the balance, often determining which teachers will be most successful; it’s the ability to change to meet the needs of our students and colleagues.

To be effective, we must…

Accept correction from new teachers with fresh ideas.

Accept correction from administrators.

Accept correction from friends.

Accept feedback from parents.

Accept new ideas from students themselves.

Humility is required for students to make the most progress.

I’ve worked in places where the expected facade was that professionals know everything. Asking questions was looked down upon. Questions were threatened by huffs, careless glances, and furrowed brows.

Yet…healthy professional learning communities allow for exploration, deep questions, a learning curve, and time for reflection.

Teaching is a lot more than reading from a book for powerpoint.  It comes primarily from the heart. Moldable hearts promote moldable minds.

While teaching is the focus of my professional life, the truth is that all effective personal and professional relationships require the ability to accept correction.  Developing teachable spirits is one of the greatest challenges, yet it is one of the most essential for students and adults to excel at life.

© Deb Elizabeth 2017

teachitmama.com

I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40). 

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