Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Original Tale for Teachers...Nikki the Giraffe

On the first day of school, this original tale was sent to me to remind me of the importance of what we do for our students in spite of the many challenges that we face in the classroom. It was such an uplifting and inspirational story that I asked for permission to publish here for all of you to enjoy as well. Meet Nikki...

Nikki was an amazing giraffe. She spent her time working hard to help others and be better each day for those who counted on her.

She was great in all forms of her life, especially her job. She was a walking instructor. As many know, when baby giraffes are born they take a minute to get up and going. Their uneasiness of being able to walk on their new stilted legs is obvious and can be very frustrating for them. That's where Nikki comes in. Every year she is met with the new challenges of working to get those new giraffe calves up and moving so they don't become easy prey to their predators and so they can begin to learn more and eventually fend for themselves.

Nikki's job is pretty involved. She gives of her time and she focuses on each individual giraffe. Some come along quickly and some come along slowly, but it's Nikki's job to be sure they are up and moving in a speedy time frame.

There are others in Nikki's herd who claim to do the same thing. Many of the other walking instructors have been in the their game so long that they almost get frustrated when new calves just can't seem to "get it". They berate and push and cajole to get these new babies up and moving. Many times the little ones get so frustrated that they cry and some give up completely because they refuse to be pushed. The older calves just move on without them and get the ones that are more naturally talented and able to get moving and they leave the slower ones to fend for themselves.

Not Nikki. She looks at each calf as the new creature that they are. She gets them each up and going at a pace they are comfortable with and that makes them want to keep trying. One by one, the calves in her care get up and start to teeter, then walk, and eventually run. Those slower to stand see the others and become more encouraged by them than Nikki. Many times Nikki will ask an already walking calf to go and help the ones having trouble. It's been some time since she learned to walk that maybe the encouragement of a peer would be better suited. Nikki stands by and watches and answers questions when needed, but for the most part her job is that of encourager and advisor.

There is never a forcing nature or a mean demeanor in her presence. She exudes patience and knows that her calves will all succeed to the measure they are meant to. She does all this with the constant nagging and backbiting of the other walk instructors. "She takes too long with each one", "All her calves love her. She must just be the 'fun one", "Parents always ask for Nikki. What's she got that we don't have. I mean, we've been doing it longer than her and everything".

It was true, but the reality was that Nikki loved what she did and had not allowed the weight or monotony of her job to get the best of her. She knew how to encourage and direct and to give guidance when necessary but for the most part she also knew that each little giraffe in her care would have to get it on their own to really make it in their world. Pushing them could be more detrimental than good so she took the time needed to be sure they were comfortable where they were and not where someone else thought they should be.

"Thank you Ms. Nikki" was a common theme as both mommy and daddy giraffes approached her. Calves who had learned from her would constantly come back to see her and even worked with the new ones to help her.

Nikki did more than just instruct. She taught little giraffes how to be successful at becoming big giraffes and to stand on their own 4 feet.
How many of us can see ourselves in Nikki? For me, I see the endurance, patience and kindness that I hope to exhibit with all of my "young giraffes" this year as I guide them to walk on their own learning path.  All of our students deserve educators like Nikki. Will you be a Nikki this year?

~Special thanks to Gene Ramsay for writing 'Nikki the Giraffe.' A best first-day-of-school gift I've ever received.
photo credit: ucumari via photo pin cc

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Finding Your Fortress of Solitude

In my last post, What's Your Superpower? Lessons Learned from Superheroes, I drew some comparisons between superheroes and educators. There is one additional lesson I feel like we can learn from superheroes that needs to be a separate post.

As a general population, I think we can easily identify with superheroes because they are seemingly ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They come through in a time of need and bring hope to those whose lives they touch. As teachers, we want to do the same for our students.

However, often, and especially at the beginning of the school year, it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are so many things to accomplish, many of which don't actually have anything to do with the actual teaching of our students. Then as school gets under way, we have data meetings, content area meetings, IEPs, grade level meetings...the list could go on and on. With each of these, there is usually a pile of work to be accomplished in addition to our classroom repsonsiblities.

For me, I tend to think in to-do lists. But the lists seems to grow so long, and then they jumble up with all of the plans and ideas I have for my students (even though I diligently use many productivity and time management tools). For many of us, it becomes a jumbled mess inside of our brains. What are we to do with all this scary gibberish inside of our heads? (If you find yourself struggling to stay organized and effectively manage your time, be sure to check out Frank Buck's website and blog...he's an educator's organizational guru.)

Let's take a cue from our favorite superheroes. After all, Superman has his Fortress of Solitude and Batman has his Bat Cave. They realize the importance of taking time away from the ensuing chaos to regroup, analyze, and strategize. Don't we deserve the same? If all we are doing is jumping from one fire to the next instead of stopping to clear the our minds, we aren't doing anyone any good...including ourselves.

I learn. What's your SuperPower? I feel strongly that for us to become the most powerful and effective educators that we can be, we must take time to become a reflective practitioner. Our success with our students depends upon us taking time each day to analyze what we did in class and how it impacted student learning. If something went well, we need to be able to identify what we did that caused that success so that we can recreate it and adapt for other lessons and learning activities that we lead. If what we did was unsuccessful and didn't positively impact students and learning, we need to identify the causing factor and strategize how we can make improvements in the future.

The thing about reflecting is that we each need to be transparent and honest with ourselves. No one, not even a superhero, is always successful. Situations changes, students come in with different life challenges and even disasters happen. The only way we can help each of our students every day is to diligently reflect and refine our teaching practice. This is how we learn and grow as educators.

This time may be while your are driving home at the end of a school day, when you are taking a shower, or through writing a blog. For me, this blog is serving as a reminder that in spite of all the deadlines and demands on my time, my primary focus must be how I use my time with my students. It's the choices I make with them that will impact them in the long run...not all the chaos filling up my mind.

Set aside some time to find your Fortress of Solitude. Become a reflective practitioner. Be strong and teach on!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What's Your Superpower? Lessons Learned from Superheroes

It seems like anywhere you turn now days there is a new superhero movie with the accompanying advertising and merchandising. Who doesn't love a good story where the good guy, usually the underdog, comes back against great odds to become victorious?

But, what is it about superheroes that appeals so much to us? Perhaps is the fact that they are seemingly ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Like us, they have ordinary jobs: computer programmers, newspaper reporters, photographers, a member of the armed service, or librarians. All of us can see a bit of ourselves in our favorite superheroes.

Also, we can learn valuable life lessons from our animated (and now live action) heroes. As many of us are beginning a new school year, here are a few of the lessons that apply in our classrooms with our new students.

  1. They have a secret identity. They realize that life isn't all about them (of course, Tony Stark and his huge ego is the exception). They go about their lives and let other people live their lives and solve their own problems. As teachers it is important for us not to become the Tony Stark of the classroom. That classroom and the learning therein isn't about us at's about our students, their needs, their goals. Students today are masters of their own universe with the ever flowing information at their finger tips. They make decisions about what they learn, how they learn it, and how they share what they learn. They are connected with others 24/7. As teachers, it's our job to bring that into our classrooms. We need to give them the control and change our role to one of facilitator or lead learner in the classroom environment. 
  2. They always do what's right. Often superheroes are not popular, often being labeled as a nuisance or a vigilante. But, they also know that "with great power comes great responsibility." Unfortunately, often times when we try new strategies, techniques, tools, or lessons plans, we become unpopular with other educators. Teaching is not a popularity contest. It is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to reach each and every learner in our class. Be bold...think outside the box and try new things. They need our support, guidance, and leadership as they set their own goals and strive to meet them. 
  3. They dress the part. When a superhero shows up, you notice them. They immediately put the minds of those in distress at ease. They command respect. We should do the same for our students. They should be able to look at us and know that we do, in fact, have the ability to help them meet their challenges. They shouldn't have any worries in the classroom because they know it is in good hands...yours. You are the professional and although the classroom isn't about you, it sets a tone for your students about the expectations that you have from each of them each and every day. 
  4. They form alliances. Superheroes know that sometimes they are not up to the challenge alone. That's why we have the Justice League, Avengers, Fantastic Four and Xmen. They realize that that by working together, they become a much stronger force. It's the same with educators. All of us have challenges, but we are not alone. We need to find other educators who have experience, who have successfully met challenges, and who are willing to share. It's up to us to form our alliances by building our own PLN (personal learning network). With technology, it's easier than ever to build a relationship with other educators through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Second Life. We might be strong on our own, but together we can become invincible forces for our students.
  5. They save the world. We may not be fighting off Loki and an army of aliens (even though we may think there has been an invasion of the body snatchers with our students at times), but we control the worlds of our students. For many of them, school is the safest place in their lives. We don't know the struggles they face outside of the classroom walls. We must remember we have the power to change our students lives forever. 
So as we enter our classroom, for many of our students, we are a superhero in their lives. It's up to us to live in such a way that we deserve the honor and respect that our students give us. Best wishes as you set out to teach "Truth, Justice, and the Global Way."

 photo credit: Krissy.Venosdale via photo pin cc