Wednesday, December 30, 2015

“You’re Only 16, You Don’t Have a Rep Yet”

I got you singing didn’t I? Taking it back to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.  Classic, late 80s.  Driving down 270, Middle/High school dances. We could relate.

Now we’re the adults. Does it still hold true?  Do we understand our 16 year olds? Do they have a “rep” OR are we giving them a “rep”?  Unfortunately, I think as a society, it’s the latter, and it’s not positive either.

About eight months ago I made a personal decision to return to teaching at the high school level after spending many years at the elementary.  I heard “Are you crazy?”  “Those kids are tough”. “Oh, the attitudes those kids have.”  “That age group is just rude, lazy, and careless.”  When I share that I want to go into high school administration, the responses are even worse!  

These stereotypes need to STOP - NOW.  Let me share why.

How about the student who struggles in his business/accounting class, but states that the teacher is “his main guy”, and #2 on his Christmas shopping list (following himself - he is after all still a teen) if he should run into some money.

The student that emails me over winter break just to check in and to see how my Christmas was.

The student that doesn’t have to be at school on a particular exam day, but comes with hot chocolate and a gift and asks if he can work on a computer to get caught up on his credit recovery classes.

The student that had to ride the bus to school during exams and came to me to see if he could just stay in my room until his exam time instead of “doing something I shouldn’t be doing with my friends” during that time.

The students who dress up in skirts and ties to interview for an extracurricular club position during their exam week.

What about the student who is often perceived as “bad” because he sags everyday and raps as loud as he can down the hall.  That same boy (once you take the time to talk to him and learn his story) will stop what he’s doing in the hall to give you a fist bump, open the door for you, and carry bags when he sees you loaded down.

No, I’m not Pollyanna.  There are some tough teens out there, I agree. I just wish more people would see the positives in our teens.  Relationships are the key to success when working with our kids.  I see it every day. I’m so fortunate to work with some extraordinary people who are the role models to these teens.  It’s about finding the time to figure them out and give them what they need. It’s going the extra mile.  

It’s the business/accounting teacher that hasn’t given up on that student and accommodates to meet his needs.

It’s the teacher who makes planners for students so they can keep track of their assignments.

It’s the teacher that makes muffins and casseroles for her students so they can have a warm breakfast every once and awhile.

It's the coach that takes the time to work with a special needs student and include him on the wrestling team - as a wrestler!

It’s the staff the models appropriate behaviors, attire, attitudes.  

It’s greeting students at the door, in the hallways, addressing them by name.

So let’s leave the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff in 80s.  Let’s keep building relationships with today’s teens and drop the negative “rep”.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


What is compassion and what does it look like in education?  Have we lost compassion in schools?  Has testing, OTES and other demands made us lose sight of why we became educators?

I remember vividly things I did in Judy Walls’ 2nd grade classroom at Lincoln Elementary School many years ago.  I remember her warm hugs, her greeting me at the door, reading to us on a big rug in the corner of her room as she sat and rocked.  Looking back SHE was the reason I wanted to be a teacher.  My second grade year was when I started reading to my stuffed animals and begged for a chalkboard.  Mrs. Walls had compassion for her students.  

Recently, I’ve encountered more and more colleagues that seem unhappy and frustrated with their career choice. “It’s the worst year ever”,  “The kids are out of control have no respect”, “I’ve been dumped on again”, “I wish there were something else I could do”.

I wanted to shout - THERE IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO!!!!  I refrained, and as a friend, listened sympathetically, offering suggestions.  

What can we do as educators?  We can show kids we care.  I wholeheartedly feel that if students know that we care about them then their attitude and behavior will be different.  Some kids don’t have anyone that tells them that they love them, that they believe in them, that they trust them, that they are proud of them.  

A simple phone call home telling a student’s parent that they did something great can start a great family conversation.  A personal note home makes a student see you value them.  I recently had a student I had several years ago see me and pulled out his wallet and showed me a folded up note that I wrote wishing him good luck on his OGT.  

I think as educators we “get to busy”  or “forget”, but we can’t let this happen.  We have to give our students what they are missing in other aspects of their life.  We need to show them that they matter - they count.  They are, after all, why we are employed!

It was ironic that #ohedchat was about compassion this week because it has been something weighing heavily on my mind. As I participated in the conversation my heart was filled with joy to hear the wonderful things that others are doing.  I’m confident that a little goes a little a long way, and modeling is contagious!  

Little things that I’m filing away:

  • Recently I attended a homecoming dance.  The dance started at 8:00.  The special education students were permitted to come in early and had the dance floor to themselves prior to it getting too crowded or too loud.  Isn’t this wonderful?!  Allowing students to experience what everyone else does without the extra stimulus that could have made this a bad experience for them.
  • An entire school building has ordered shirts to support a student afflicted with cancer.  The school (students and staff) will wear the shirts, and part of the cost of the shirts (over 1/2 ) goes directly to the family for medical expenses
  • Lunch groups that brings students of all diversities and needs together.  Seeing these students together outside of the structured group (football games, hallways, etc) is AMAZING!  
  • Personal note cards to students and staff.  Vista Print offers cheap postcards and cards that you can custom make to fit your school
  • Attending UNschool-related events.  Not all students are athletes, and many do things outside of school sponsored events (dance, piano, Special Olympics, theater).  Attending these events even briefly make a world of difference in relationship building!
  • Remembering to ask how an event went - if a student says “I have a soccer tournament Saturday”, then Monday, ask how it went, not in passing, but with interest.
  • Offering families assistance as needed.  A fellow teacher knew a student was in need and with the help of his church furnished his family’s apartment.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Day of Gratitude

As I was driving to work today I heard it was the “National Day of Gratitude”.  Yea, maybe another made-up holiday, but I’m digging this one!

Today was a long day.   Meetings, class after work, grocery store after class.  I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I’m grateful for!

First, my family.  What would I be without my family? They pushed and challenged me as a child and instilled in me to never give up.  No feat was ever too big.  I was going to be successful and I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone tell me differently.  Sure there were obstacles along the way. There were tears.  But with those tears were hugs.  Although my dad is no longer physically with me I know he is still encouraging me every day.  The phone calls from my mom on those rough days make them seem a little easier.  I’m forever grateful for my parents and their love.

My friends are equally as important.  Changing jobs this year was an easy decision professionally, but I knew with leaving to better myself would mean leaving some pretty awesome friends.  I learned that true friends are true friends regardless of where you are every day.  The texts, the cards, the emails; they mean the world to me.  What’s even better is the great friend I made by changing jobs.  My office mate has the biggest heart and she inspires me every day to be a better teacher and a better person.  Her love of her students and her job are unlike anything I’ve seen in education in a very long time!  Love ya G-slice!

My health.  This has been a journey, and continues to be.  As I struggle a bit with crazy hours, I am encouraged daily by texts and Facebook posts by my awesome new running buddies.  The motivation that these people bring proves that “I Can” and for them I am grateful! #NoBo

As you grow older you realize the meaning of friendship too.  It’s not about having 30 friends.  It’s about having a handful that you trust, respect, and admire.  These are the people that inspire you to be better.  I’m so thankful for these friends!  It seems like when you are in need, true friends know – and new friends appear! 

My job and my students.  WOW!  Changing back to the high school was a leap, but do I love it!!!  My students are inspirational.  I love talking with them and making connections with them.  Just today I finally feel I made a “breakthrough” with a student I was struggling to connect with.  I offered my lunch to help her with a history assignment.  I wasn’t sure she’d come – but she did!  We talked and I offered help.  She listened and talked.  As she was leaving she thanked me.  During our time together I suggested she do something.  At the end of the school day she returned to my office and told me she followed through on that suggestion.  THIS is what I love about high school!

My mentors.  This list continues to grow, but it started when I was in elementary school and wanted to be just like my teacher.  It continued in to high school with great teachers.  In college I had a wonderful adviser that said "Hey Jodie, consider taking my special education class next quarter". I grateful for that! In graduate school the first time I was honored to get to work with Dr. Susan Sears.  She will always be in my heart and a second family.  And now - for this second go-around at grad school... The people that I am meeting and learning from will only make me a better person and administrator some day.  So very thankful!!!

So today, or even tomorrow – heck make a week out of it – think about the “National Day of Gratitude” and reflect on what you are thankful for!

"Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot"

Sunday, September 6, 2015

7 vs 17

As an intervention specialist and school counselor I’m licensed to work with students K-12.  A majority of my teaching experience has been teaching special education at the elementary level. These experiences have been in rural districts, suburban districts, and a district with a very high socio-economic status. I was a school counselor at an urban high school for three years, and taught multi-handicapped students at the high school level as well.  I’m currently a high school intervention specialist in a suburban district with great diversity and SES.

What I have found through these experiences is one simple thing.  No matter where you are, all kids are same. 

I know that may seem odd to some.  How are seven year olds like 17 year olds?  How are inner city kids like their rural counterparts?  Easy.  They all have a need to feel wanted, important, valued. They want to be special.  The rule followers or those who you have to dig just a little deeper each day to find that “special” need to feel important. 

For the last eight years I worked at an elementary school.  I had the same student for five years.  FIVE years.  I took time, but I grew to adore this student and understood her special needs.  Her need for love and encouragement.  Her need for breakfast and clothes and school supplies.  Her need for hugs and quiet lunches some days. And now she’s in another school.  A simple call from her the other day literally brought me to tears because she said “Guess what we’re doing in school.  Did you hear about….” Then… “I miss you ”.
Now, I’m at the high school and a student shares that he will be turning 16 the next day.  When I ask him how he will celebrate he responds with a shrug “it’s no big deal”.  SIXTEEN!  Sixteen is a big deal.  I go buy donuts.  We celebrate his sixteen years.  A few days later he stops by my office and said “thanks for those donuts.  Nobody has done that before”.

It’s little things.  Kids want to know you care.  It’s going to a football game, a little league soccer game, a choir performance or even asking about their anime drawings.  Seven or 17; kids are kids.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Last year for Christmas I received and read the book One Word That Will Change Your Life written by Jon Gordon.  After a few days I decided my word for 2015 would be “determined”.  It’s now almost September and it’s still a perfect word for me and something I reflect on often. I am more determined than I have ever been in my life.

Personally, I set out on a health goal of eating healthier and exercising more.  I was determined to lose weight and get in better shape.  I’ve done exactly that!  I joined a running group, will run my first official race on Labor Day, and have lost over twenty pounds so far.  I am determined to continue.

My professional determination is what I am most proud of today.  In January I decided that I no longer would allow routine and familiarity be my continual, easy way of life if it was not driving me to be a better educator.  I was determined to find another position in my district.  I put in a request, and I’m lucky to say that I am now a high school intervention specialist.  I am determined to make this year one of growth, learning, exploration and success. I am thrilled with my decision to try something different.

I am determined to continue to grow as an educator and a future administrator.  I stepped outside my comfort zone and reached out to two extraordinary leaders in public school administration and asked if they would take me on as an intern this year.  They both were willing to teach and work with me in nontraditional ways throughout this year so I can have the skill set I need when I start looking for administrative jobs. 

I am very fortunate for the opportunities that I have been given this year.  I am determined to grow, to grow with my colleagues, and to grow my students. 

I am determined that the rest of 2016 will be as fulfilling as the start has been.