Kyle McClure of USD 313 and Permission to Innovate challenged me to think of my five non-negotiables as an educator after his recent trip to the ISTE conference. On the surface, this seemed easy. I started to scribble down my core values, but that left me with seven…not 5. I sat, thought, and really pondered on how to narrow down my core values to only five non-negotiables, but here they are:
After looking at my list, I realize that since I am always learning and a continual work in progress, I have room to grow. I am not perfect, but I aim to continue to make the above items non-negotiable. They are always in the front of my mind and a priority to model for my students and family.
OK, maybe I'm showing my age here, but how can you not remember that commercial?? Who doesn't love Fred the Baker?? What I love about this commercial is it pulls together two of my favorite things: consistency and donuts.
If I am one thing, I am consistent. Last week at the gym, the young man behind the counter made the remark, “Do you ever take a day off? You are here more than me.” And while I take the weekends off from my early morning gym routine, I rarely deviate from my Monday through Friday routine…and I mean rarely.
It pains me to change it up. It is not that I am that rigid and can’t change, I just don’t like to. I like the predictability of my routine. I know what to expect. I like to get my work out finished by 6:30 am when most people haven’t even heard their alarm. It makes me proud and accomplished and those things help set my mood for the day.
Each day I set foot in the gym, I am able to be one step closer to my goal. Whether it is to be faster or stronger or leaner, I am making the commitment. Is it an easy task? No. Can I always do the same workout day in and day out? No. But am I there? Yes. Drop by drop.
This mentality has helped me in my classroom and working with children. I show up…with a spring in my step…excited to be there. I know that seems very Pollyanna of me, but I AM excited to be there. I am lucky to have a job at a school I like with people I adore and students that need caring adults around them. So I get up every day ready to make things happen.
And another reason I am an avid gym goer? See above with my love for donuts.
Every day. Step by step. Drop by drop. It’s Time to Make the Donuts.
Working with people is difficult. Very difficult. In fact, working with adults may be the hardest part of a school day. So, when you are lucky enough to work with someone who just gets you, you hold on to them...tightly. I was so fortunate to work with my "lobster." For anyone that did not watch the TV show, "Friends," the term lobster refers to the person of whom another is meant to be with forever. The term originated due to the fact that lobsters mate for life. (At least, according to Phoebe.) So for all practical purposes, Kelsey was my work lobster.
For five years, Kelsey and I worked in the trenches at middle school with kids that frustrated us one minute and brought tears to our eyes the next. She left at the close of the school year as her husband got a wonderful job in a district across the state. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss her and all that she did for so many middle school students...and for me. Here are just a few of my favorite things that I took from her.
1. Donuts fix bad things. When you have a bad day or you must announce something bad, donuts are a must. Before I dropped carbs from my eating, we had donut Fridays, and sometimes donut Wednesdays, and Thursdays, etc. A good donut or cup of coffee or any treat fix most things. When Kelsey announced she would be moving I saw the Daylight box on my desk. Dead giveaway. It was bad, but for a moment when I was lost in carby glaze, it was okish.
2. Find the good in everyone. Every class has that kid. The one that drives you up all walls. For some reason they get under your skin and drive you batty. Kelsey developed the #complimenttrifecta: Three genuine compliments each class period. She said that by doing so you look for good and don’t have as much opportunity to focus on negative. You know what, it worked. At first I would have to hold back a smirk while I dished out, “Hey John, thanks for hanging up your jacket. You rocked it.” But then something magical happened. I actually started noticing all of these ok things and less of the nails on the chalkboard variety. Genius.
3. Get a theme. Classrooms are sleepers, hospital grade, boooring. If I am going to spend all day somewhere, it had better be fun. Kelsey taught me to get a theme. So I did. Everywhere. All over. So much so, it looks like a zebra threw up purple glitter. Everything matches. The kids love it and it is so much more cohesive and fun to “live” in each day. My room is the posterchild for comfortable and I could not imagine it any other way.
4. Find common ground. Whether it is a book (Harry Potter), a TV show (Bachelor), a movie (Avengers), or hair and nails, Kelsey would find something in common with the students. She would use that to grow connections with the kids daily. Those connections is how she bonded with kids. Every kid shares something with you, but you have to find that common ground with them. And when in doubt, share with them things you like and maybe, just maybe they will love it as much as you. I will never forget my most challenging class of 22 years watching Les Mis and crying as hard as we did…and asking to watch it again.
5. When in doubt…read. Kelsey was great at thinking on the fly. Many times I would get held up in the office by another teacher (Fingo haha), a behavior situation, or the faculty bathroom (teachers take an obscenely long time in there), so I would leave her hanging. I could always count on the students reading if they were waiting on me. A great skill and practice to develop. So much so, when a student would get in trouble they would use their book to calm down. On more than one occasion a student would stomp out of the room furious with me and would rush back in grab their book to take with them to go cool down.
6. Have faith. Kelsey has the greatest faith of anyone I know, but she is one of those people that does not impose it on you. She has encountered obstacles her life, but her faith shines through. When many people would complain or give up, she speaks about faith.
7. Speak highly of your significant other. When her husband was offered an (amazing) position in a new city requiring her to move too, she never spoke negatively. Ever. She raved on and on about what a talented educator he is (which he is) and how this new position was everything he has ever wanted. When the students and I blamed him for everything (roof leaks, bad weather, gas prices, etc.) because his new position took her from us, she didn’t falter. It was a great testament on how a relationships should be and a great opportunity for kids to see how respectful relationships should operate.
8. Glitter makes everything better. See #3.
9. Sometimes a look is all you need. Kelsey is the best at shooting kids a look. From across the room. And no words need spoken. Sometimes words get in the way. Sometimes words cause arguments. Many times a look will end any foolishness that is going on. Looks mean business.
10. Let me be me. I have a steel trap for a memory. On some things. 80s movies, yes. Obscure trivia, yes. Locating my keys or spelling or many other things, no. Kelsey was my fact checker, my proofreader, and so many other things. She was the best at fending off an irate library media assistant when a student had a day late library book, a parent that needed to vent about a random problem that happened two months ago, or another teacher that wanted to complain that Jenny didn’t have a pencil with her in class. She did all those things so I could be me, so I could run my crazy world, my mixed up classroom. She didn’t question my filing system or when I would completely change up the lesson because I wanted to see if something else was a better fit. She just did it. We all just want to be us. She not only let me, she supported me.
Everyone should be lucky enough to have a work lobster.
It took me far too long to figure out that the classroom wasn’t my private domain, filled with prisoners that I could manipulate. When I finally realized that kids will become independent, enthusiastic learners if they are part of a non-threatening community, I threw out everything that most teachers consider classroom management. I told my students the first day they were part of a unique community, a family if you will. We set out on a quest. We looked at the mission for our school and took it a step further for our own classroom. The students had great things to offer and we did many rewrites until we came up with: Our classroom mission is to provide a safe, nurturing environment that fosters lifelong learning, active participation, respect, & the belief that all things are possible.
With the mission clear in everyone’s mind, we set our sights on our vision: what we hope to achieve if we successfully fulfill our mission. We worked together and came up with: Our vision is to create one of the state’s most effective middle school classrooms by helping students who have ongoing emotional needs prepare for secondary education and leadership in their communities. The entire classroom family felt accomplished about what we came up with and were stakeholders in the mission and vision.
Next, we looked at values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves: our Core Values. These values focus on our unique life experiences and govern us on a daily basis. In an ever-changing world, Core Values are constant. Core Values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ to accomplish our mission, they are the values that underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. The Core Values are the basic elements of how we go about our work. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.
Our Family Core Values
Creativity: The use of the imagination or original ideas
Service: The unselfish act of doing something for someone else without expecting any reward or gain
Grit: Perseverance of effort that promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges
Self-Awareness: A clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions
Respect: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
Weirdness: Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable; just plain fun
Leadership: Inspiring confidence in other people and moving them to action
These Core Values are more than just words on a paper. Every student in our family knows them forward, backward, and is able to speak passionately about them at any given time. Everything in our school day is centered on these Core Values.
Last year, we wrote a grant for a class Makerspace and begged our local Home Depot for any excel wood or hardware. They set us up! We were able to start building projects that the students designed: standing desk, shelves, outdoor games, and craft projects. If the students can think and dream it, then we make it happen. Creativity also comes into play when we use our Create Your Own Assignment. For many of my core classes, I offer choice assignments. The students can pick these assignments based upon their descriptions and be creative with their product. They feel comfortable in failing in our class, because failure is learning. And creativity is part of that.
Perhaps my favorite Core Value is service. This was completely student originated as one student wanted to do more for our school and community. We contacted our local Harvesters Food Pantry that does a drive by food pickup each month and asked how we could help. We now go once a month to the site and help. This moment alone is life changing. Here we have students many of who don’t have much money if any and they are volunteering their hearts out for their community. It is physically the hardest two hours spent, but the feeling of accomplishment these students have will take your breath away. My students started the idea of a snack cart during our last period of the day with the proceeds going to the school for “scholarships” for any students who can’t attend an activity due to funds. Just another aspect of our service value.
The Core Value of Grit is one we struggle with the most on a daily basis. We often hear students telling others to dig deep and show Grit when a particular assignment is giving them troubles and they want to give up. When one of my students were having trouble with Grit as they ran the mile in PE, another one of my students and a para (in flip flops and jeans) finished with him encouraging him the entire way. Grit is tested for us every day in so many aspects.
In our class, Self-Awareness takes on many forms. We goal set each week using our Core Values as a guide and revisit them each day to discuss our strengths and weaknesses. We start our day with ups and downs for each of us (adults included) and reflect on the good and bad things we are facing. This part of our day is the most integral part. It has so many purposes. It allows our family to bond and build relationships which are critical to student success, especially for my students who have serious ongoing emotional needs. We meditate after lunch before we transition to the next period. Meditation was purely an accident. Last year, I was so frustrated with behavior during that “coming down” period after lunch that I turned out the lights and used the free headspace account to bring some self reflection and quiet time to the room. I could not believe the response from the students. They absolutely loved the time so now it is a daily thing. I can attest, it has changed the climate of the room 100% during that transition time after the craziness of lunch.
Respect was the Core Value that surprisingly barely made the cut. Our Core Values are guiding principles, but not necessarily the base qualities that are non-negotiable. Our family agreed that respect was a given, but probably the area where most students struggled in the past and the area where most students were written up in the previous archaic form of classroom management, so we kept it in, because we are all learning. In our parent communication form that we use each day, we mark the Core Values of student strength and the Core Values of student weaknesses, so the parent or family member is aware of the day. Using the Core Values and indicators is just another way to support and immerse our family in the values that they are stakeholders in. We have received only positive feedback with regards to using the Core Values as our measure of the day and our IEP goals reflect the change as well.
The value of Weirdness is so much fun! Middle school is such a tough time with kids always trying to find themselves. We all preach to respect each other’s differences, but in the next breath we are asking kids to follow along with the group. These messages leave so many kids confused. We decided as a family that we needed and believed in a Core Value of finding the fun in things and celebrating the weirdness and fun within ourselves and with school. At any one time, you can see our family wearing funny costumes, dancing like no one is watching, singing along to the music that is always playing in our room, or laughing to funny videos like James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, or Ellen. When the weather is nice, we take it outside for friendly competitions in homemade Frisbee golf, horseshoes, or washers. The students reminded me how serious and boring we take ourselves and school can be so monotonous, so lighten up and celebrate.
Our final Core Value for this year is Leadership. Many of the students in my class don’t always consider themselves leaders, so we spend considerable time talking about leaders and what makes a good leader. They realize that leadership opportunities are everywhere, both positive and negative. It is up to them to create these opportunities and take hold. We have an afterschool group where my students are paired up with others and given the chance to practice these inspirational opportunities. Last year, my students took the initiative to create flexible seating in our classroom. We all worked together to acquire comfortable chairs and other seating through grants the students wrote or through their own garage sale finds!
So in our class the term family means so much, it means belonging…to a classroom and so much more. It means shared mission, vision, and Core Values. Students in our family feel safe and a part of something much more than just a classroom. They know their voices are heard and valued. They are family.
My class completed the Star Wars Breakout yesterday. This breakout was designed by the Breakout.edu team. My students had a blast.
The breakout challenged their problem solving skills. They were successful and were able to break out! We received new supplies from a grant over Donors Choose!
The students and staff reflected after they broke out to see what strengths they used and what they can do better for next time!
Our first trip to Harvester's Food Pantry was a huge success! We arrived early to meet with our volunteer coordinators. They reviewed the rules and away we went! The weather was gorgeous and we were treated with fresh fruit and veggies to take home! We can't wait until October's visit. Our class loves to give back to their community!
Welcome to the new website for Dr. Ewy's classroom! Here you can find links to your child's daily communication log, pictures of our classroom and student projects, and information about upcoming events or things to note! We are excited to expand into the tech era by utilizing the technology our school offers. Check back on our blog often for new exciting things!
|Embrace the Whole YouA classroom dedicated to growth||
Embrace the Whole You