Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Religious Bullies in School

This past week, the pastor at church spoke about the onslaught of religious bullying young people are facing in our schools.  There is a constant attack on their morals, a call to be “cool,” and a desire to destroy the connection they have or could have with the Lord. As the mother of three children and a public school educator, I know all too well what this "bullying" looks and sounds like. In fact, some days, I feel like I am headed into battle with a secret that must be shared. After all, I know I could be the only “Bible” some of my students ever see.

Knowing this fact, I strive to make connections with every student in my room. I shake their hands when they come into class. I laugh with them and share important moments in their lives.   I challenge them, care for them, and even hug them. I have been teaching for over a decade and have experience from preschool through college. Therefore, I have taught students fighting battles and religious bullies of every kind. I always say "nothing can surprise me anymore," but every time I mention that phrase I am proved wrong.

I have worked with students who have been abused, were homeless, on probation, or in drug and/or alcohol rehab. I have tutored students before school who were struggling to get homework done between work, babysitting siblings, or caring for their own child.  I have listened as a young lady shared about her life as a 13-year-old prostitute in Mexico, and tried not to break down in the teacher's lounge when I learned she and her family were being deported.  I have counseled a young girl who just learned she had a sexually transmitted disease and one who relapsed and began snorting crank again. I have taught kids who were heavily involved in gangs and had to go to gang training because of my complete naiveté in this area. (There was a small incident where I unknowingly ran into the middle of a gang brawl to stop two of "my kids" from fighting.)
I have laughed, cried, and cheered for "my kids" as they performed in sports, plays, concerts, and academic bowls. I have celebrated with their families when they beat cancer, welcomed a new sibling or became the first in their family to graduate. I have mourned the loss of students killed by a drunk driver, heroin overdose, and suicide. I am still haunted, as I lie awake at night, thinking about a young boy I should have adopted my first year of teaching. 

These all seem like painful, awful experiences, but these are actually highlights in my career. Why? Because they were all opportunities for God to show what He can do. Each one of these students was prayed over, and some even came to church with my family and I.  I knelt with some in prayer, laughed and cried with them, and provided many with food, clothing, and school supplies. I told each one they were talented and that they were loved. Now, I am not a special teacher, nor am I "trying to toot my own horn." I am just pointing out what God can do with one broken, sinful vessel. It still amazes me God is using someone as unworthy as I am to share His word.


It does not matter if students grasp the difference in transitive and intransitive verbs or understand prepositions are, “anywhere a mouse can go.” However, it does matter if I show students God’s love. I feel my job is to share the true knowledge of Christ through my actions and the way I care for my kids. I want them to learn that being a follower of Christ is not about being blameless, but about seeking forgiveness. It is not about knowing the Bible word for word, but about learning what God’s word can do in their lives and in the lives of others.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

My desire is to prepare them for the battles they may face, armed with the words of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. My prayer is that the young people in our world embrace these words as a call to action, grapple with them, wallow in their simplicity and use them in every choice they make in their lives. I am definitely not worthy to call myself a disciple of the Lord, but I am willing to be and this is how I can make a difference. It is not always going to be easy, but it will always be worth it.   I am an educator, not just a teacher, and I want my students to leave my room knowing all that I do is “done in love.”

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wealth of Health

As the mother of three very active kiddos, I have found my own balance and health can become second, third, fourth or even fifth to all the schedules filling our family calendar.  There are some weeks we have one meal at home because we are at events all week. Yet, we have learned that dinner time is still important for our mental, emotional and physical health. So, even when we are on the go we make time to eat a quality, balanced meal as a family. There are days it is more challenging than others but overall it is well worth the planning and forethought. 

The trunk of the car is ready for the week with blankets, activities, and a cooler, which is refilled each day. Due to life-threatening allergens and the pursuit of a health, our family does not consume grains or added sugar (NSNG) products. This can make the picnic a bit more challenging because we have to plan further than a pack of crackers and sandwiches. Therefore, we are creative, and our bodies benefit from a little extra planning.

 We  used to think if we worked out five times a week ,in an anaerobic state (Zone 4-5), we would burn off the carefully counted calories we ate throughout the day. However, with very little evidence of the strain we were invoking on our bodies, we began to feel drained, pained and discouraged. So, after a little research, we started paying more attention to what we were eating, not the number of calories we were consuming. We bought heart rate monitors and started working out in Zone 2 (aerobic state). The decreasing numbers on the scale seemed to be tricking us until our eyes began to see the results too. However, it was the lack of fatigue, and strength we felt, which overpowered the numbers on the scale. We felt better. 

This week's grocery cart.
Now, we are a family happy to be "weird" when it comes to our lifestyle choices. We shop on the outside aisles and no longer feel the addicting pull for products that were once making us sick or feeds cancerous cells.  We still eat foods we love with modifications which make us feel better. Instead of spaghetti we make what our kids have coined, "spagragus." This is spaghetti with no added sugar and made with asparagus instead of noodles. The flavor is intensified and it is better for our bodies. 

We model the habits we want to see in our children. Therefore, as we eat our NSNG picnic meal at the three track meets, taekwondo dojo, and gymnastics studio this week, I know my kids will see that we care about their health, happiness and value our family time. We are not wealthy financially, but we are a wealth of health. After all, we want to be around for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well. We know this means choosing to care for our own bodies and minds while we raise health conscious children too. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


Spring is here, even if the weather seems to suggest otherwise.  It is a time of rebirth, regrowth, and a fresh spirit. Our students feel it, and so do we. I am sure the crazy spring fever can be seen in the classrooms across the nation. This meme popped up on Facebook, and it seems to match my mood as of late. I was working on a paper with students today and came home completely burned out and frustrated. The students were distracted, acted confused, and seemed to have little interest in putting forth any effort.  So, when I left the building I felt... well... like Carol Burnett looks.

After standing in the wind ,at a freezing track meet and eating a cold picnic dinner, I had cooled off enough to reflect.  Is the April face of this teacher a problem because of my own lack of focus on my actions and words?

I am a firm believer that we should use choice words in our classroom, never use sarcasm, nor should you yell.  Yelling becomes white noise after awhile, and sarcasm is just anger's ugly cousin. Choice words help to steer students to the expected behavior and do not highlight the negative. I have been heavily trained in Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions and know it works. If you want to change the classroom behaviors then do not demand control, gently guide by choosing your words wisely.

So, the rest of the week I am going back to the basics of SPRING.

  • Smile before I respond. (Take a moment to think a happy thought and reply with a smile) 
  • Positives first. (According to PBIS you should have a 5 to 1 ratio for positives to redirects)
  • Reply to questions with renewed vigor instead of a frustrated sigh or tone.  
  • Individual student behaviors will be handled one on one, and not across the room. 
  • Notice the behaviors I want and call them out loud and proud.
  • Give permission for brain breaks every 15 minutes for you and your students.

I hope you will join me as we welcome SPRING into our classrooms, homes, and businesses. If you give it a try I am sure you find the rewards to be plenty and the joy to be invigorating. Please share and comment to spread the warmth of SPRING.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Establishing Norms

When students enter your room they must understand the norms of the classroom. How do you create norms? You should establish some norms from the first day of class. These norms are going to help you manage your classroom from the start. So, the first few days focus on establishing those norms, getting to know the students and determining what norms are necessary to help the classroom run smoothly. If you establish these norms during the first few days you will be able to jump into instruction much easier because you will have less behavioral issues to deal with in the long run.

On the first day, I explain there is only one rule in my classroom; "Be Yourself." It is from my favorite quote: "You might as well be yourself because everybody else is taken," by Oscar Wilde. As a class we brainstorm what the one rule means to them, and why that rule is important in helping us to become better learners, citizens, and individuals. We use this one rule to establish our class norms.

The first thing we do is to discuss in groups of positive experiences we have had in classes before, and those experiences which made learning more difficult. Next, we share as a whole group some of the things we feel are necessary to a positive classroom climate, which allows everyone to be who they are and to learn. Then we create a social contract as a class detailing how we treat each other. T
There are four sections to the contract.
1: How will we treat each other?
2. How will we treat the teacher?
3. How will the teacher treat us?
4. What are the consequences if we break a social contract norm?

NOTE: They must list the items with positive language, so exclude "do not","should not," and "no," from their vocabulary options.

  • Listen quietly while the teacher is talking VS Do not talk while the teacher is talking 

The students work in small groups to discuss each section. Next, we share out whole-group and create an anchor chart that stays up in the front of our room. The students each sign the contract, and we hold each other accountable.  The teacher is not the only one who can manage behavior anymore, as it becomes a classroom norm to uphold the social contract as a team. Therefore, every student has a voice, knows the norms and expectations, and is able to support our one classroom rule: Be Yourself.

In class assignment on creating social norms using technology.

Monday, April 4, 2016


When a student enters your classroom he or she should feel welcomed. The environment itself should be a warm, safe place; however, the teacher sets the tone as the head of the welcoming committee. Therefore, station yourself at your door, and greet each student with a smile on your face.  I know you are busy and we all have things we need to complete prior to students entering our room. However, when a student walks into the room you should not be staring at a computer screen or focused on anything else in the room. Students should know they are your priority, and by greeting them you are showing them you are aware of their presence.

I learned early on that greeting kids at the door can mitigate some poor behaviors for attention. When I served students with behavioral and emotional disorders,  I dealt with a lot of behaviors. However, there were far less on days I greeted the students at the door. I had to show them that no matter what happened yesterday they had a clean slate, I was genuinely happy to see them, and I used that greeting as a way to start the day off on the right foot.  I follow the acronym T.U.M.S. I picked up from an amazing conference I attended featuring Dr. Laura Riffel, the Behavior Doctor. 

  • T- Touch- Shake their hand, high five, elbow nudge, fist bump or pinky hug each student as they come in the door. 
  • U- Use their name. Someone's name is the most beautiful sound in the world and the "most crucial" according to Dale Carnegie. 
  • M- Make eye contact. Look at the student and show them you see them for who they really are.
  • S- Smile. Smiling lets the student know you are happy to see them, excited to have them in your room and have cleared the slate from the day before. 

Friday, April 1, 2016


Becoming an educator has been a dream of mine since the first grade. (For those of you who do not know my history in the field of education, it might be helpful to read my blog, "Moment I became a Teacher," as it will explain a lot about how I became who I am.) No matter how many years I teach I have found that I am still amazed at how little I know, how much I need to learn, and how amazing it feels to see learning happening in the hearts and eyes of "my kids."

I love the fact that God has a way of spotlighting your purpose when you need it the most. It is the last quarter of the year and as an educator, you can get pretty bogged down in the routine, the spring fever, and the attitudes exuding from teenagers who are ready for summer. However,  I had one of the most enlightening conversations of my teaching career today. It inspired me and made me see there is a purpose to the crazy inside of my head and heart. Although I love my job as a reading specialist this year, I have truly missed coaching and leading educators. I had an opportunity to do so the last few weeks, and it has energized me. Therefore, I have decided to push myself to try something new.

 I edit and write for foreign and local individuals or companies, and develop curriculums and lessons for schools around the world. However, I am going to try to focus on my own writing purpose and my love for coaching and teaching. I am not 100% sure what is going to come of it, but it will be a trial in teaching and a bearing of this educator's soul. I will be creating a regular blog post about education and would love to interact and connect with my readers as well. Therefore, if you have questions about education, have a student or child who is struggling, or just want to share a tip you have about education or life please leave me a comment or two.

I had a question about my training and education and thought I would list those things to share a little about who I am and where I have come from in the field of education. This may give you some insight into why my posts are all over the place. I was told once that I am "a Jack of all trades, but a King of none, " and it was meant to hurt me. However, I am so thankful for this eclectic experience because it has made me see education in a different way each year. It is also clear to me that I do not want to be an expert on one thing. I want to continue to learn and I am humble enough to admit when I do not know something. After all, God has led me down the paths I have taken, and I know He is preparing me for something, and putting me where He needs me. I will gladly follow the King instead of trying to be one.

To learn more about my experience and education feel free to watch my online resume or read the info below. 

As an undergrad, I took the scenic route, not the interstate. It took me 5 years to graduate, as I was married to a military man, had two kids, dealt with deployment, and moved 6 times in 5 years of school. I also ran a daycare during the day then went to night classes. So, I transferred to different schools and ended up having to retake classes due to the non-transfer of some courses. During these years, I majored in education and minored for the first year in theater and the first three years in psychology. I ended up with 240 credits and needed 172 to graduate.  I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Middle Grades Education with an emphasis in Language Arts and Social Sciences.

Master of Arts in Teaching in Instructional Strategies with an endorsement in Reading. This was a degree I obtained to help decrease the chances I would get pink slipped AGAIN. I was pink slipped my first 4 years of teaching as the low man on the totem pole. Therefore, I decided to complete the one course I needed for my reading endorsement K-12 and to complete courses to ensure I would always have a job with special education services. I took this three-year program in 1.5 years because I was terrified my husband was going to get transferred in the middle of it, and I would be unable to transfer courses. I was so glad I put myself through that stress because the last semester he was transferred. The kids and I stayed until the end of the school  year and I was able to complete my thesis and graduate prior to moving.

Master of Education in Leadership was the degree I just finished up. It was a three-year degree I completed in a year as well. (Undergrad scarred me for life). I never saw myself as a "leader" and was not even sure I wanted to take this on, but after some coaching conversations with my spouse, superintendent, colleagues and a whole lot of prayer I decided to give it a try. I am so thankful I did. I see education from an entirely different perspective now, and I know I am a better educator and employee because of it. So, technically I could become a principal, but my passion really lies in special education and curriculum. Therefore, I do not see myself becoming a principal anytime soon, but a magnet on my fridge has proved true time and time again, "We plan and God Laughs."

I am a graduate of the Ottumwa Leadership Academy, Highly Qualified in Elementary Content Knowledge, MS Language Arts, HS English,  and earned a certificate in Science in Project Wild through Aksarben in Nebraska.

I have had experience teaching in a variety of grades (preschool through college), subjects, and levels. I have been a general education teacher, special education teacher, college professor, English specialist, instructional coach, lead mentor and special education director/leader.  I have developed curriculum for 4 countries, created non-traditional classrooms online, Moodle programmer, and have written grants with awards over 1 million dollars in revenue. I have been lucky enough to see education in various states around the country (Missouri, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Alaska, and Florida). I  have taken classes or been trained in Reading Apprenticeship, Alaskan studies, Cross-Cultural Studies, Second Chance Reading, Dyslexia, Instructional Coaching, Mentorship behavior management, PLC, Emotional Intelligence, Fierce Conversations, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Throughout my education and experience I have learned that a life-long learner is not just a buzz phrase, but a daily goal.  I make mistakes(daily), am not an expert,  still have a lot to learn, and believe the smartest person in the room is the room. As an educator,  I want to show my students and audience that learning is important and can happen anywhere. It should be something you strive for, not perfection. Failure can teach you how to be flexible and give you more knowledge than getting the answer right the first time. Therefore, I will ask all of you to forgive me for the many mistakes I am sure to make on this 100-day journey. I will screw up, I will create horrible posts, boring ones and even those you feel wasted your time. However, I pray that the intention to share God's purpose is clear in every post along this journey and that you will read, share and grow alongside me.