From Definitive to Confident in the Classroom

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Last year I went to DisneyWorld.  I could not believe the long lines for rides.  While some of the lines were definitely not worth the wait (Haunted Mansion I’m looking at you), other rides (Splash Mountain) were definitely worth the wait.  This wild ride of teaching has been more than worth the wait and has exceeded my lofty expectations.

When I first started teaching, I felt like I wanted to make everything definitive.  I think this was a mind hack on my part to convince myself I was doing the right thing.

For instance, I would make these definitive statements like, “Group work is the only way to go.”  “Technology in the classroom is vital.”  “He must do these 100 sentences to learn his lesson.”  It is quite comical looking back on it.  It is also quite sad, because what did I know at that young age?  I was trying to fit every one of my students, every one of my lessons, and, yes, every one of my decisions in this nice, little black and white box.  

We all know life doesn’t work that way, and a student and their background is so much more complex.

Now if this was just a me problem, that would be one thing.  Unfortunately, I see this same mistake being repeated over and over again in education today.  Social media is not helping out.  In the rush to put out a great sound bite in a tweet, facebook post, or blog entry we often box our opinions into a corner as the only definitive approach to education.

We see this often with the latest and greatest “flavor of the day” in the education world.  Definitive statements begin to flow.  “Maker spaces are the only way for students to feel empowered.”  “There is no better way to learn than in a PLC!”  “Identifying a fixed mindset is a game changer.”  

I’m pretty sure I can see the collective eye roll of all of my readers.

In our race to a definitive statement, we minimize the actual importance of the given topic we are reflecting on.  

Ultimately, I came to the realization that my confidence was the thing that needed the most boosting without the use of a definitive statement.

Thankfully, I can now definitely say, there is always room to grow.  That is the funny thing about growth.  For when we grow, so does our confidence.

What My 88-Year-Old Grandma Taught Me about Teaching (and Life)

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Teaching is not rocket science, nor is pretty much anything else in life.  I read a book years ago where the authors explained some of the most complicated ideas, inventions, and concepts using only the the 500 most common words in the English language.  It was fascinating to see something like nuclear thermodynamics explained in such common, ordinary language.   

So there I was, sitting at a kitchen table, talking to my 88 year-old grandma about life.  I was soaking it all in as we have so few opportunities to catch up in person.  We were talking about history (of course) specifically World War II era and the Great Depression.  We were talking about how folks can have a positive mindset even through unfathomable circumstances.  Then she shared something so profound and so simple that I had to make a note of it.

“Today may be awful, but tomorrow could be wonderful.”

While I’m sure my grandma had her share of awful days, you would never know it.  She is always positive and always encouraging.  

Obviously this quote is a wonderful quote about life, but so much of teaching is simply about life.  Teaching is partly, if not mainly, about building character and grit and toughness and patience and empathy in these students that God has blessed us with in our classroom.  Clearly we have much content to convey as well, but the content of our character is just as important as learning the date of the invasion of Normandy.

You would be lying to yourself (and others) if you said your year of teaching was perfect.  Who are we fooling!  There were so many moments where I wished I could have a mulligan.  There were so many days where I was left wondering if I taught that lesson effectively.  

Teaching is all about having awful days.

But teaching is also about conveying the idea that tomorrow can be wonderful.  

We mess up.  We forgive.  We make a mistake.  We learn.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

My Dad asked if we could pick up some lunch for my grandma.  She enthusiastically exclaimed, can we get McDonalds!  You would’ve thought she was about to mention a pancake breakfast (our favorite), at her favorite restaurant, as she spoke with such happiness.  No, it was simply, “I would love a frappe!”  Even when we have an awful day, something so simple as a frappe can bring such a smile. 

It is good for us to remember and remind our students that even on our most awful of days, we have something so wonderful waiting for us… heaven. 

When Student Enthusiasm Fades, Teacher Enthusiasm Must Soar

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Remember all of those first day smiles filled with the anticipation of the first day of school that you witnessed in the faces of your students?  Remember their excitement as they met new friends?  Recall the joy of seeing their new classroom, new books, and so much more?

If only that excitement of the first day of school could last the duration of the entire school year.  

However, very quick the realization of the work ahead sets in for many students.  Daily work, quizzes, tests, projects, and essays soon appear and the joy turns to thoughts of being overwhelmed.  

For students, parents, and teachers alike the excitement soon turns to the grind.

Continue reading “When Student Enthusiasm Fades, Teacher Enthusiasm Must Soar”

The Three Greatest Words Ever Spoken

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“It is finished.”

To understand the importance of these three, simple words, you must first understand their context.

The context is Jesus’ perfect life, led for us.  The events of Holy Week culminating with the most selfless act in the history of mankind.  The brutality and shame of Calvary.  The grim sight of the cross.  All of this, led us and Him to these three words.  The three words that would display love, grace, mercy, and our future.

Those words speak volumes.  His resurrection was the exclamation point.  The victory dance.  The ultimate celebration.

Those words tell us that there is nothing more that needs to be done.  He has done it all for us.  It truly is finished.  His redemptive work is complete, nothing that we do will earn His favor.

We are completely His, bought by His own blood.

Many of our Lutheran schools have resumed classes this week after Christmas break.  For many, it was a well-deserved and well-needed break from the rigor of school.  It also served as a time for us to reflect on the birth of our Savior, and the life that he was about to live for our sake that would culminate with those words, “It is finished.”

The second half of the school year will be filled with challenges, blessings, disagreements, and struggles that we cannot even imagine.  We live in a sinful world, and we will all have our failures.

When we have those failures, it is then we realize the power of Jesus’ statement on the cross.  It is then we understand the full scope of His love for us.  it is then we humbly fall at the foot of the cross, and realize that all we have is because of Him.

We have His treasured little ones in our presence every day of the week.  We have the opportunity to bring them up in the pages of God’s Word.  We have the fortune to proclaim to them every day, “It is finished!”

Look at the second half of this school year as an opportunity, an opportunity to share that pure Gospel message that is the completion of Calvary.  The knowledge that by grace alone, by faith alone we are saved.

It is finished!  Go forward this school year with the dedication, peace, and knowledge that is found only in Him.

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way

The first day of school is quickly approaching all across the United States. Perhaps a little bit of panic is setting in? Excitement? Celebration? Hopefully, not dread.

The first day of school is always one of my favorite days of the entire year. Everyone has a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. Ideas are flowing. Minds are ready. In many ways, it is like that first day of spring up north. After a long, cold, and dreary winter it is time for the rejuvenation and life that spring brings.

Encouragement is needed throughout the entire school year. Encouragement is needed on that first day, that 50th day, and on that last day.

Why encouragement?

Let me tell you a little story about the power of encouragement. I was never a star student. I worked hard, but not a lot clicked for me. I often struggled through math, writing, and literature class in high school and college. My favorite subjects have always been history and science. While at MLC, I took Professor Theodore Hartwig as much as I possibly could for my history electives. While many considered him a challenging professor who had very high expectations, I loved learning from him. I struggled in some of his classes, all of the reading and studying was, at times, very demanding.

The last class I took with Professor Hartwig was on the life of Martin Luther. At the end of the class we had to complete a 20-30 page paper/timeline on Luther’s life. Up and to that point, I had never worked on anything with that much focus in my life. Day and night, for weeks, I worked on that paper. Even though I had spent class after class with B’s and C’s, I did not want to disappoint him.

Professor Hartwig gave me an “A” on that project. However, that is not why I am telling you this story.

I was going to lunch the next day and Professor Hartwig stopped me in the hallway. He took me aside and told me that was the best work he had ever seen me complete. It meant the world to me and my future work.

It begs the question though, why did it mean so much?

   *It was sincere.
I appreciated it because I knew he meant it.

*It was specific.
He could’ve just said, “great job on that paper.” But he didn’t, he made it specific and made it     personal.

 *You had to earn it.
He was not the type of professor who just threw around praise. You had to earn his praise, which made it all the more meaningful.

     *He cared.
Professor Hartwig cared about the students he had. Believe me, I blew many of his quizzes and tests. He would lovingly call you out and get you back on track. That is what a great teacher does really well.

Professor Hartwig didn’t just teach me history. He taught me how to be a teacher. He taught me how to be a better worker. He, in a major way, gave me a life-long example of how to encourage others.

The student who receives the least amount of encouragement and praise in your classroom is probably the student who needs it the most. Who are you going to encourage your first day of school? More importantly, how are you going to encourage them?