God Made You

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As teachers, every day we wear so many different hats.  Often times those hats may be tattered and heavy, and it may seem as we are making no progress in the lives of these children and their families.

The following story is a small encouragement for all of us that we are making a difference for His Kingdom each and every day.

 

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. 

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. 

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said, “Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.” 

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. 

If I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.” 

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can’t you see that 

you can’t possibly make a difference?” 

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”

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Boys Don’t Need SuperDad, They Just Need Dad

In my years of teaching, coaching basketball, and being involved in the lives of teens I learned one thing that dwarfs everything else I learned. Boys and young men need dads. Most importantly, they need to know that their dad is “there.”

Being “there” doesn’t mean you have to be at every game, every practice, every up and down, every event. However, being “there” means that they can depend on you. That they know you care. That you love spending time with them. That, when the time comes, you are willing to drop everything just to see or be with them.

First, some staggering and sobering statistics. Most of these statistics pertain to single-parent households where the dad is not present in the child’s life.

  • Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents.
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.
  • A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
  • In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

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10 Ways to Thank a Student

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#3: Sticky Note Smile

10)  Tell Them

Nothing beats the ol’ fashion look ‘em in the eye and “thank you.”

9)  Stickers anyone?

Not as a reward, but as a quick and easy thank you.  Everyone loves stickers.

8)  Write Them a Personal Note

Stick it in their desk or backpack.  Better yet, if you are really proud of their work in a certain subject, tell them.  Slip it into the next lesson of their textbook so they can have the pleasant surprise all to their own.

7)  Tell the Parents

Trickle-down thankanomics?

6)  Display Their Work

Place their art work or strong assignment in a prominent place by your desk.  Perhaps, on the wall for a few weeks or in a frame right on your desk.

5)   Down Time

Encourage them when they are down.  Be specific and tell them how much you appreciate them.  This one can get emotional, especially if they are really down about something.  The more personal feedback the better.

4)  Have Lunch with Them

Make it a point to sit with them at a lunch hour, and have a conversation with them.  Try not to focus on school.  Focus on their life outside of school.

3)  Sticky Note Smile

Walk by their desk and put a sticky note on top of their desk while they are working.  It is unexpected and it is personal.  That is a rare combination in a classroom.  And seriously, does that take all of 30 seconds?

2)  Extra-Curricular Support

Show up to one of their events outside of school.  The ideas are endless.  Their basketball game, soccer match, football game, dance competition, singing recital, and gymnastics event are all examples in which you can show you really care and appreciate them.

1)  Hug it Out

If you don’t like a hug, then you need a hug.  This is especially important for male teachers who have male students who really look up to them.  They crave that affirmation.  They need to see that male example of care and kindness.  Remember, many of them may not receive any male affirmation outside of school.  The lack of a father in the life of a boy has reached an epidemic in this country.

Have another way to say thank you?  Share it in the comment section.

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?

Teacher and students b/w

I often tell my teachers that it is never too late in the school year to change something.  While there are a few major items, like curriculum, that deserve our full attention during the summer months, most aspects of classroom instruction can be changed at any time throughout the school year.

If something is not working, why would we continue with mediocrity just because there are a only a few months of school left?  That makes no sense.  Teachers should continually be striving for the best, even with limited time remaining.

So how do we continue reaching for the sky in our classrooms and attain the most out of the few time we have left remaining with our students?

Make sure we are setting and sharing learning goals

Are we giving our students goals for the instruction that they are being taught?  What is the point of this test?  What is the plan for this project?  How are we going to get to this end result?  It is important that we stay on task.  Are we holding ourselves and our students to task by articulating our learning goals for each new unit?

Continual Assessment 

I don’t mean drill and kill worksheets.  With so many months of school in the preverbal bag, we must ensure that we are continually changing up our assessment strategies.  Yes, at many levels tests are crucial to reinforce study skills, habits, and memorization skills.  However, are we also offering other varied avenues for assessment?  Skits, class videos, music videos, clay sculptures, real life math projects, group presentations, are all types of assessments that we can use to invigorate our classroom.  The list is endless, our creativity and drive are the only barriers.

Passion

Have you lost your passion in these winter months?  If students see teachers who are going through the motions, won’t they emulate the same?  How are you keeping your lessons engaging?  This is the time of year to put in that extra effort to make sure your lessons remain interesting and mentally challenging for your students.   If they see that passion and enthusiasm in your presentation, that same attitude is all the more likely to transpose into their work.

Relationships

Win their hearts, gain their minds.  I can’t write about achievement in the classroom without concluding with relationships.  Teaching, our calling, is all about relationships.  When students know we care, they care.  It is all the more important, as the school year closes, to make sure we are building those relationships with our students.  This is crucial with students whom are struggling.  This is the time of year in which they prefer to just throw in the towel.  That is if they know their teacher doesn’t care.  Students who struggle, strive for that relationship.  While many teachers may see that student as a student who doesn’t care or is lazy, the teacher who cares sees that student as another soul.  We never give up on a soul.  We never give up on a student.  Build those relationships, show your students that you care not only about teaching but about them.

So have you set that bar high?  Are you reaching for the sky?  If not, there is time to change.  Don’t wait.  Make that change, in your classroom, in yourself, and in your heart, now.

The Most Valuable Feedback in the World is Your Students

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“We all need people who give us feedback.   That is how we improve.”

                                                                                        -Bill Gates

Our harshest critics, are often times the students whom we serve. I have the privilege of teaching an amazing group of junior high students. They may be some of the harshest critics of them all.

One thing I love about teaching children is they are brutally honest. If they don’t enjoy something, they will let you know. The opposite is also true, if they enjoy something, they will most certainly let you know.

Every day that I enter my classroom, I receive feedback throughout the day.   I can tell when my students are engaged. I can tell when my students are anticipating a lesson. I can also tell when my students are bored out of their minds.   This feedback is invaluable.

As teachers, we must ask ourselves, am I listening to my students’ feedback? There is some feedback from students that we can ignore. Decisions we make based on classroom climate, culture, discipline, etc. may be unpopular but needed.

There is a whole stream of feedback that we must listen to, however. We must answer tough questions as educators. Are we engaging our students? Are we meeting all of our students needs? Are we serving our students to the best of our abilities?

This is when we must listen to the feedback our students are giving us. It is invaluable. Furthermore, if we listen to it, it will make us all the stronger as an educator.

My students have called me to task before. My junior high students used to have an inward grown when it was time for science class. I knew I had to make more of an effort to engage them in class. I had to add more hands-on activities, more experiments, and more labs. I had become too dependent on the lecture as the basis for my science class. It was easy. It had become a crutch. I knew I had to change, based upon the feedback of my students.

Now I have students who look forward to science class and the topics we will be learning. While never perfect, my students helped me become a better teacher for them. We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.

“We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.”

As Bill Gates stated in the opening quote, it is how we improve. As educators, we should be compelled to be reflective. We ought not be afraid of constant evaluation; we shall embrace it.

What kind of teacher do you want to be? More importantly, what kind of teacher do you want your students to see you as? By listening to their feedback and being open and honest with them, it shows them that you care. It fosters a relationship with your students that cannot be measured.

Finally, how can we insist on our students to improve and grow as learners, if we are not continually growing and learning ourselves?

Listen. Listen with an open heart and a reflective mind.

The Power of the First Field Trip

Field Trip

The power of a well-planned field trip is immeasurable. While difficult to find that thin line between fun, interesting, and worth-while, when that line is found it can reap huge benefits. 

I am a firm believer in the power of the first month of school field trip. I typically like to make this field trip to be a fun, learning trip that the students can be very excited about.

This year, we went to a state park for our Science class. We took a three-mile hike, worked through a Science lab, had a religion class, and finished by swimming in the lake. The students loved it, and I loved it. 

The benefits we gained from it were more than just a good science class and an incredible environment to teach about God’s creation.

 

Team Building

Some may see hiking and swimming as just fun time on a field trip. I see them as quite the opposite. It is a great opportunity for the students to have fun with one another and build relationships. This is particularly important for junior high students who value relationships so highly. It is even more important in a multi-grade situation. Many of my students have been together for six or seven years. Every year we have new students who enroll in the school. It is important for my students, who are so comfortable with one another, to get to know the new students on a personal level. Activities like this, facilitate those opportunities. I cannot stress this enough. Building these relationships is vital for the culture and climate of your classroom and your school.

 

Family

Field trips, like this day outing, help promote a family atmosphere. Parents love to come on field trips like this one. Parental involvement demonstrates to students that their parents care about their school and more importantly their education.

 

Mental Break

For students and teachers, the school year is long. Field trips help break up the monotony of the school year. It is important not to get in the mid-year doldrums before the first month of school is even over. You will need the energy of your students to stretch into the year as long as possible. The ability to take that first field trip early, gives students a renewed vigor for the beginning of the school year and the challenges that lay ahead.

 

Therefore, if you haven’t already taken that fun field trip to begin the year, I challenge you to do so. Make it an annual tradition to start the year on a high note with a fun, educational field trip.

 

 Field Trip Ideas to Start the Year:

Nature walk at a local park that also has a playground.

Go to a movie! We are going to The Giver in a few weeks once we finish the novel.

Go to an area state park.

Take them to the local zoo where they have to complete a scavenger hunt to help promote team building. Many zoos offer a program that allows for this kind of activity.

Picnic at the park with games and activities that follow.

 

 

If you have any other great ideas for a beginning of the year field trip, please share in the comment section of this post!

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?