Monday, 17 July 2017

What's the Plan Team? Minimize the Awful and Focus on the Awesome.

What an incredible blessing it is to be a teacher.


A. Freaking. Blessing. (With a big 'ol capital B!)

My summers off are spent with my everythings. My 3 kids and my amazing husband. I cherish this time that I get to spend with them. I get to be a full time mom and I love it. I also treasure the fact that my teacher brain is still engaged and I get to spend the time reflecting on my practice, reading books by passionate educators and recharging my batteries. Through all of our summer experiences, my teacher side never quite shuts off...

As I spent time with my kiddos at the pool today, a lovely new mama with a 4 month old baby girl was floating near us. My littlest is DRAWN to babies (like obsessively drawn to babies...) and made a beeline for little Emerson (she asked her name as soon as she got her little hands on her...)

Emerson's mama and I made small talk. We asked a few questions and kind of talked through the kids like moms tend to do. And in that moment, there was SO much I wanted to tell her.

I wanted to offer support and advice. I wanted to tell her how incredibly jealous I was of all of the one on one time her and her babe get right now. I wanted to relive my days as a mama of one. I wanted to tell how much fun she has in store as her baby girl grows...

I also wanted to start with the "well, just wait until ..." stories. I wanted to warn her about the sleepless nights and the worry she was sure to have. I wanted to tell her about how every year that goes by I seem to know LESS about mothering instead of more. I wanted to cry out that I often feel lost and worried that I am ruining my babies. I wanted to make it all about my fears, my worries and the things that drive me crazy as a parent...

But I didn't. I made a very conscious effort to stop myself from spouting off the negatives. I made sure to get her eyes and to tell her what a great Mom I'm sure she is, how blessed little Emerson is to have her and how much I love being a mom too.

That's it.

This two minute interaction in the pool with a fellow mama got me thinking about teaching and the life that we lead as teachers.

One of my favourites, Jimmy Casas, says that teachers have a tendency to be "awfulizers". Think about it! As hard as it is for me to admit and as much as I want to fight the label, as a group, we kind of are. Not all the time. Not every single one of us. Not every day. But awfulizing definitely comes into play in our profession. And on the harder days, the ones where we feel alone or frustrated, awfulizing can happen without a thought, kind of like a really bad habit.

And one of the WORSE things we can do as "awfulizers" is to bring down new teachers. Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me shudder.

I could have "warned" that new mom in the pool today. I could have rolled my eyes and went on about the ugly side of parenting. I could have gone into "veteran" mom mode and felt as though it was my responsibility to enlighten her about all the terrible things that could happen as a parent. I could have made the decision right then and there to take the fact that her and Emerson were blessed to have each other out of the equation and to awfulize her role as a mom. But I knew that wasn't my job.

My job was to tell her that she was doing a great job and to encourage her to keep doing her best. My job was to soften my eyes and my tone and to listen to her as she gushed about her baby and her mom life. My job was to learn from HER and feed off of her new mom energy and connection with her babe.

And just like that time spent in the pool today, this is how our newest teachers need to be treated.

I get that there is a need to be realistic and to be honest about how tough our days can be. I am not one to sugar coat. But, I am one who would much rather focus on the positives, come up with solutions and energize people with positivity.

But here is what I have no time for...

"Well, just wait until YOU have been teaching as long as I have. Wait until you have seen what I have seen and heard what I have heard and then you won't have this kind of energy/passion/dedication/love of children/connection/enthusiasm blah, blah, blah..."

Seriously? There has got to be a better way...

Now, let's not get all upset over generalizations here. I KNOW that not EVERY teacher does this. I KNOW that teachers that do are ones who may be hurting and who may have fallen out of love with a profession I am sure that they started out loving. I KNOW that these comments are made when we feel uncomfortable with our own practices, unsure of the changes in education and when teachers are angry at their view of lack of resources, time or money. I know that we all have bad days where awfulizing can happen without even thinking about it. I get all of that. But as a group, we need to come together to "make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear" (Thanks for THAT juicy little nugget George Couros!)

So, what's our plan Team?

What are we going to do to drown out the negatives? Especially for the newer teachers in our lives?

Here are some ideas I've come up with...

I'm going back to basics. Back to the start of this blog, back to why I started teaching, back to the reason I do what I do... teaching is a Blessing (there's that big 'ol capital B again!)

Spending our days with somebody's everything?


Having the ability to brighten someone's day with a smile, a high five and some kind words?


Being surrounded by people who "get it"? Who are constantly learning and evolving and trying to do better now that they know better?


I could go on but the point is that we ALL have our own list of why this profession is a blessing. And by focusing on the fact that it is a blessing? Well, there is no better way to express to new teachers that we are all this together and to put all of the "awfulizing" into perspective. And if MY "awfulizing" is in check? There's a good chance I will not be the Negative Nelly that is trying to "enlighten" these new teachers...

Another part of my plan? I am going to be vulnerable. Yep. That's right! Planned vulnerability. We know that vulnerability allows connection to occur. We also know that it breeds innovation, creativity and change. And THAT's the kind of teacher I want to be.

How will I practice vulnerability? Well, I am lucky to get to add an amazing co worker (who will also be my daughter's teacher!) this year. No better opportunity to practice what I am preaching, set aside my awfulizing habits (and my ego!) than with building a relationship with an incredible new teacher.

I look forward to spending this time with her. I look forward to focusing on each other's strengths. I look forward to sharing as many resources and ideas as I can. I look forward to watching her journey. I look forward to celebrating successes together.

But... I also look forward to opportunities to be vulnerable. I also look forward to not knowing all the answers. I look forward to saying "I don't know". I look forward to learning what I can from her as there are areas she knows much more about than I do. I look forward to feeding off her energy and enthusiasm on the days that I am lacking. I look forward to being her biggest cheerleader. I look forward to getting better at my own teaching practices because of my relationship with her.

Want to feed off her amazing energy yourself? Check out these 3 tweets..

Check out the hashtags.

#lucky #ivegotbutterflies #feelingblessed

C'mon now.

She is all in. And so am I.

And it is teachers like Taryn, the ones who are all in, the ones who strive to be better every single day, the ones who know that the kids we teach are worth every single bit of energy we put into them... these are the teachers who remind me just how blessed I am and who encourage me to keep the "awfulizing" to myself.

And you can be darn sure that just like in the pool with that mama today, I will be working on connecting with other teachers, getting their eyes and telling them how great they are, how blessed their students are to have them and how much I love being a teacher too.

Minimizing the awful and focusing on the awesome blessing that teaching is will create a greater sense of gratitude for the role we play for our learners each and every day. And with that immense sense of gratitude, we can begin to connect with each other as collaborators, as creators and as innovators instead of bonding through awfulizing.

And PS Taryn... you are not alone. 10 years in and I still get butterflies. We are blessed to do what we do. Welcome to the Team.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Learning Courage, Compassion and Connection with #KindnessCapes

Learning Courage, Compassion and Connection with #KindnessCapes

I am crazy about kindness. Sharing it, spreading it, promoting it, talking about it, practicing it, blogging about it ( teaching it, quoting it, buying tshirts about it... crazy. about. kindness.

I am SO crazy about it that I felt the need to come up with a unique way to share this passion with my students and to practice kindness in a way that they would remember forever. I wanted to not only read cutesy little books about about being kind (even though one of my favourite books is
"What Does it Mean to Be Kind") or practice kindness within the fours walls of our classroom (our number one rule in the class is "Be Kind") or watch videos about examples of kindness (even though I always love me a good ugly cry kindness story on Ellen...). I wanted to LIVE kindness in our community. I wanted people to think about kindness and associate it with my kiddos and be hopeful that a bunch of 4, 5 and 6 year olds could change the world. I wanted my learners to know that there are some lessons that aren't in the curriculum but that will be important to them for the rest of their lives. From that place, Kindness Capes (#kindnesscapes) was born.

Why Capes?

Kindness is a focus in our classroom from Day 1 of Kindergarten. Books, videos, storytelling, sharing at our morning meeting, talking about "3 happy things" we saw or experienced at recess... they all help us to define what kindness is and where we see it in our world. We then extend our learning about kindness into our community with our first #KindnessCapes walk of the year.

We talk about how kindness takes courage. It takes courage to help a stranger. It takes courage to speak up when we know something is wrong. It takes courage to give something away that we really want to keep for ourselves. It takes courage to be kind when no one else is. And because superheroes are the most courageous people of all in a five year old's mind, the capes become a visual representation that THEY will be Kindness Superheroes for the day.

They LOVE the capes. And although I am sure that I could get them to go on kindness missions without the capes, the capes bring their enthusiasm and excitement to a whole new level! When they see them hanging on their lockers or in our classroom as they come in first thing in the morning and KNOW that they will be changing the world that day? Those reactions? Those squeals? Those smiles? Those are the ones I live for as a teacher.

(Side note: Since I always get asked, these capes were purchased at Dollar Tree for $1.25 each. BEST $1.25 per student I have ever spent!)

Where do the Kindness Capes ideas come from?

The very first walk of the year is always the easiest one to come up with. That's because it is the same one I start with every year. It all came from one student's response years ago when we were talking about the courage it takes to give something away to someone that you really want to keep for yourself (more on that part of the story here: ;) ) When I asked students what they thought the HARDEST thing for me to give away was, with no hesitation, one student called out "THE COFFEE!". They know me so well...

So, each year for our very first #KindnessCapes walk we head over to our local coffee shop and purchase coffee to deliver to someone else. I believe in leading by example. And I believe that them seeing ME give coffee (my very favourite thing in the world in their mind!) away to a stranger?! There is no better way to show them that keeping something to yourself instead of sharing it with someone else is much more rewarding.

I literally had a child cry this year when we did this. We delivered the coffee to some construction workers next door to our school and she felt SO sad for me that she cried! It was a wonderful way to remind her that SHE must have one of the biggest hearts of all to be that concerned for her teacher.

Where do the other ideas come from? That's harder to write about since I don't really know! I get inspiration all over the place! Generally, the WHAT and the WHY of the walks look similar. Spreading kindness with notes handwritten or coloured by the kids with some sort of "treat" for the people we are sharing with (art we have made, kind notes, chocolate, plants, flowers, balloons...) But the inspiration about WHO we will see changes all the time. It could be from a newspaper article, a story from our class, a random walk where we interact with people we meet along the way, thanking people who contribute to our community... it all depends on the day! I like to think that whoever we meet along the way needs us in their life for some reason that day... And sometimes we get confirmation that proves this to be true...

Another great source of inspiration for me is The Kind Club (@the_kind_club on Instagram and Twitter), a club that I started with a dear teacher friend of mine in California. The club completes monthly kindness challenges together and then students Skype to share their kindness experiences (you can get more info and gets docs to start your OWN The Kind Club chapter here!) The challenges are all prepped, ready to go and easy to complete. This year we took part in the "You Matter" May challenge and the "TKC Kindness Police" April challenge. 

#KindnessCapes with @mrsmacskinders

 Looking for inspiration for your own #KindnessCapes walks? Here are just a few of the ones we have completed over the past few years...

Delivering food to our local Food Bank after a school wide Food Drive
Delivering food to our local Food Bank after a school wide Food Drive

Delivering food to our local Food Bank after a school wide Food Drive

Delivering food to our local Food Bank after a school wide Food Drive

Donating our favourite Kindergarten books to a local Little Free Library
Donating our favourite Kindergarten books to a local Little Free Library

Donating our favourite Kindergarten books to a local Little Free Library

Donating our favourite Kindergarten books to a local Little Free Library
Delivering plants and flowers to people in our community to celebrate Spring!

Delivering plants and flowers to people in our community to celebrate Spring!

Delivering plants and flowers to people in our community to celebrate Spring!

Delivering plants and flowers to people in our community to celebrate Spring!

"Take What You Need" art and positive notes of encouragement hung on the fence in front of our school

"Take What You Need" art and positive notes of encouragement hung on the fence in front of our school
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"Take What You Need" art and positive notes of encouragement hung on the fence in front of our school
Delivering pink balloons to Nana T, a grandmother from our class family who just completed chemo treatments
Delivering pink balloons to Nana T, a grandmother from our class family who just completed chemo treatments

Delivering pink balloons to Nana T, a grandmother from our class family who just completed chemo treatments

Valentine's Day art and messages left randomly in our community for people to find

Thanking local first responders with cookies and notes

"You are SODA bomb" drinks for workers in our community

Cookies and notes welcoming a new business to our neighbourhood

Kindness Matters. It really, really does.

We have been blessed to receive amazing support from our community when it comes to #KindnessCapes. Check out this article about a recent #KindnessCapes walk we did: 

AAANNNDDD... if you REALLY want to see how emotional I get when I talk about #KindnessCapes watch this short video (we are at about the 14 minute mark) that recently featured our class... Mrs. Mac's Kindergarten #KindnessCapes

Do we ever have people reject our gifts/notes/smiles/random acts of kindness? We sure do. But it is important to remember that these become incredible learning experiences for students as well. 

One of the most important parts of our #KindnessCapes missions is the reflection we do at the end. We always designate time at the end to reflect through words, art, or stories about how we felt during the walk, what we observed and how we think other people feel about our mission. The reflection helps us to focus on the true meaning behind what we do and how kindness makes us feel. A Kindergarten version of the definition of "helper's high" plays an important part in our reflection process. This sidewalk chalk reflection after our walk to deliver balloons could be one of my favourite ones yet...

Keep the Kindness Going!

I am a true believer that "sharing is caring"! I am sharing this blog in the hopes that it inspires... 

Inspires people to share kindness in their own way, inspires teachers to blog and share THEIR stories about kindness OR any other project they are passionate about and inspires us to keep cheering one another on. This is my own little way of making sense of the world out there with my learners. I am sure you have your own way too. 

My Kinders are changing the world. I don't doubt that for one second. I am proud of the leaders they have become in our community. They are incredible examples of love and hope and compassion and I can't wait to watch them continue to grow as Kindness Superheroes in our world... with or without their capes.