Tag Archives: Best practices

Be Kind to Yourself

Teachers: We are exhausted, we are excited, we are fearful. Welcome to the 2016 testing season!!

Today was the first day of standardized testing at the elementary school where I work.  Teachers arrived early to check out testing supplies.  Parents crowded the car rider lines, dropping students off a good 15 minutes before their arrival time.  All campus faculty and staff were smiling as they greeted each other in the hallway.  Everything was looking optimistic…until it wasn’t.


Image courtesy education.com.

I want you to understand that I have a love/hate relationship with this time of the year.  You see, I am competitive. And I like to get evaluations on how well my students master learning objectives.  So test taking for me, is sort of exciting  please do not judge me too harshly—there is a big but coming.)  BUT, I am here to tell you that I am exhausted. And I bet you are too.  My excitement and fear are coexisting in a very tiny place.  I have faith that I have done everything in my educational power to push the students toward success, but fear is creeping in on me. And like every year at this, I am beginning to doubt myself.  Fear is a much darker friend than optimism.  I don’t like fear.  It makes me weak and indecisive.  Fear makes my stomach hurt, and my head hurt too. And to tell you the truth, now I want to cry.  But, I don’t cry because I can handle this. I am the teacher, and teachers don’t cry. Period. But sometimes, the kids do.

And so cry some kids did today, before their tests were being passed out to them, before they arrived at school, even before they went to bed last night.  You know students like this. They over obsess about failure instead of nurturing their confidence.   You see them in your classes each day succeeding, learning, growing.  But today is the day of the big test. And  you can hardly recognize these students today. They act like a totally different, terrified kid that you didn’t know before yesterday. And for these reasons, I really hate standardized testing. And I bet you do too.

Last week I was in a bookstore, and I happened upon a book written by the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh.  I am not a Buddhist, but I love the idea of Zen.  The book was about facing fears.  I read the book today after school because I saw a lot of fear and anxiety on campus today.  Guess what? I feel better now. So much so that I thought I would share what I learned today.

View of the rain

I learned that it is better to acknowledge anxieties, and replace them with emotions that are kinder to our souls.  I was re-taught that positive and negative emotions coexist inside all of us.  Hanh wrote that being in the moment and not worrying about the future, or grieving about past events, will allow our thoughts to be focussed on the tasks at hand.  You have probably read these thoughts before. I mean they are pretty common mindsets.  After my reading today, I was thinking that yes, I know how to self-soothe. But have we taught these survival skills to our students? Or have we assumed they were already equipped with these skills? Or do we not even see these skills as part of our curriculum?

I don’t want to sound too idealistic and “out-there.” And I say these things with respect and with all seriousness. Maybe something as simple as thinking positively and replacing our negative self-descriptions with positive thoughts, would be an effective way to retrain our students to be kind to themselves.  Practicing self-kindness could be revolutionary in situations that are high stress—for us and for our kids.

What if we teachers modeled this type of self-reflection for our families, students, and coworkers?  Our environments can be more peaceful, and potentially more productive.  

We know that testing is not going away any time soon.  I also know that tomorrow, round two of testing will bring more tears and anxious stomachs.  We say that we believe in ourselves, and we can do it (whatever the “it” might be). But how do we cast off the negative emotions and doubts?  Tomorrow I will be taking deep breaths with the student testers.  I will be modeling how to take an internal dialogue of doubt, and replace the unkind with gentler self-descriptors.  When it’s time to do something difficult, test or other, maybe they will be able to choose to be kind to themselves, just like their teacher has taught them.


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Creating Artists

A Field Trip to the Horlock House


A couple of weeks ago, a gaggle of students and I made the hike to a local art museum located just a couple of blocks from our school.

Our little town is unique in the fact that we have a museum  hosting three artists in residence at our very own Horlock House.  I needed to find a field trip for our students that did not cost much money, but that would also be intellectually stimulating for them. The Horlock House fit the bill.  Not only was it free to visit, but it was also within walking distance of our school—a perfect field trip destination.

The artists of the house were welcoming.  I had already created a plan for the day with Mr. Scotty Gorham, the neon artist in residence, and I had stopped by earlier to drop off some cookies and bananas so the students would have a snack for later. (Teacher tip:  Always have snacks!)  The kids were excited to meet: Scotty, Andrea Edwards and Steve Knotts.  All of these newly-friended artists create their art through different media at the Horlock House.  Andrea is a skilled photographer from Washington state.  Steve is a realistic painter and native Texan.  And Scotty is a neon artist from… well I am not quite sure.


The day began with a presentation by Scotty talking about neon art and the different gases used to create the color effects.  The kids were mesmerized by the lights. And through our discussion, Scotty talked about this art form as being both ordinary and extraordinary! He spoke to the students and called this art form very “American,” and explained his process for creation and installation.  It was like attending an art lecture, but with the benefit of actually seeing, touching, and understanding the art!

Horlock-House-PhotographyNext, Miss Drea talked to the students about creating art using photosensitive paper and the sun.  She even allowed the students to create their own art using leaves that we collected.   After a sweet intermission, we brushed away the cookie crumbs from our hands and looked at Steve’s artwork. He had quite a bit to say about the elements of his craft, about the lines and details of his paintings.  The children listened and asked about his process as we sat lounging on the floor.  The experience was very sophisticated, and yet very casual at the same time.  I was worried about going to a museum because sometimes artists can be uptight, or restrictive. But, not these guys.  These artists were encouraging, enthusiastic and passionate about their art.  Our students absorbed these sentiments that day, and were ready to take up careers in art. As the teacher, I LOVED it!

Most of the students on the field trip had never even heard of the Horlock House, and they have lived in the town their entire life.  For some of the students, the visit to the museum was their first exposure to art in a formal setting.  It is strange that sometimes we overlook the most unusual gems in our own backyards.


After a picnic in the backyard with the artists, and visits with a kitty cat the kids renamed Burnt Toast, the kids promised they would return to visit the Horlock House over the holidays with their parents. I hope they did.

The exposure that students have to art in our schools is minimal these days. But when you think about it, the art we learned about at the Horlock House involved science, electronics, math, reading, writing and even history.  I feel that we are working in an educational system that often overlooks the value of art and creativity.  When we start to omit art, we stop creating artists. And I am not just talking about the painters and photographers.  Think about the art of engineering. We under serve future generations if we don’t teach students how to create, and if we allow them to believe that science and engineering are not in some way artistic.

So today friends, I encourage you to take your students to a museum.  Encourage them to be artistic.  Encourage them to create, instead of just to remember facts and figures and parts of speech.

As one of the world’s most famous scientists said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

Thank you to the Horlock House and the artists in residence for reminding this teacher how important art education can be in our schools.


Want to learn more about the importance of art in child development? Just follow the link!

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Students learning about agriculture at the fairgrounds

Teach Me, Don’t Tell Me

Teach me, don’t tell me what I need to know.  Show me how to do something with interactions and examples, and I will be glad to prove to you how I have grown.
There are many things I do not know how to do. For example,  I cannot change the oil in my car, I cannot solve multi-stepped algebraic equations without assistance, and I cannot make a pot of rice without it burning or sticking to the pot.  With direction, and good instruction, my thought is that I would be able to successfully complete those tasks (well maybe all but successfully cooking rice–that will never happen).  When I do not know how to do something, I could watch YouTube videos that would show me how to change my oil. I could read written instructions that I had printed out about solving math problems, or possibly, I could have someone show me how to problem solve in person.  BUT, what if I didn’t know how to find help?  What if I did not know what options were available for me?  What if I was a kid in a classroom, and was waiting for someone to mentor me… someone to show me instead of telling me what to do?  I would be in trouble.
So often teachers are busy with the lesson/end game/product, that the essential instruction is left out, or the teaching is not sufficient to guide students through the lessons.  Learning becomes less meaningful, or lost.  I have been guilty of providing bad instruction to my students. I hate to make mistakes, and I hate even more to admit that I have made mistakes.  Our kids do not know what bad instruction looks like (it’s the only instruction they know) but our students can feel what bad instruction looks like.  Students who are confused or lost will shut down during poor instruction.  Sometimes kids become disruptive when they do not understand why the day’s lesson is valuable.
Today I am thinking about good teaching practices. I have to remind myself that lessons taught within classrooms must be:  meaningful, insightful, goal-oriented, carefully cultivated, and purposeful.  If I can say yes to all of these adjectives, it is likely that whatever lesson I am trying to teach my students will stick with them.  If I do not know the purpose of my lesson, or if I am unable to explain to my children what my intentions for the day might be, I am also teaching them something…how to be ill-prepared, unsuccessful, and educationally inadequate.
Today’s reminder, “Teach me, don’t tell me what I need to know.  Show me how to do something with interactions and examples, and I will be glad to prove to you how I have grown.”
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Shoes in a line

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It

What happens when one day you find that your old comfy shoes don’t fit?  Throw them out?  Donate them to charity?  Pass them to a friend?

Thinking about shoes makes me really excited, I love shoes … but what if you loved a pair of shoes, you had worn them in all of the major moments of your life, good and bad, stylish and not.  You wore those shoes while running, and also when you snuggled down to read a good book.   Would those shoes be so easily dismissed and handed over to somebody else?

Some of you might say yes, “If your shoes don’t fit, get rid of them,” others of you, myself included, think, “They have so many memories, I must keep them. ” O’how I love good shoes, even if they do NOT fit, I want to keep them, just in case I might need them to wear on another day. The could be just the right touch for a fancy outfit.

glitter shoe

Photo courtesy Psychopink

Today at work I had a day…well, I have had a week, which means in French terms, it has been a little tough.  I don’t really use the term “bad day/s,” because I don’t want to invite negativity, but some people might label it so.  Over the past few days I have been contemplating my work, and if I am making a positive impact on a community, students and staff…and some days, I just don’t know how to answer myself.  Yes, of course I am making a difference, right?   Smile, I tell myself, you will feel better, and I do, but the feeling only lasts a short time.  It doesn’t always feel great.  The effort that I have been putting forth lately has taken a toll on my energy and positivity.  I have been working so hard, and right now, I feel not unappreciated, but rather ineffective.

I have carried with me fears of inadequacy, imperfection,  unsatisfactory.  When I get a little low, those fears leak out and try to take root in my mind.  I don’t know why I carry the negatives, but I do.  I don’t know why I remember who planted them, but I do.  I look back to past experiences, and I visit the negativity that prohibits my optimism.

Today I really realized, that the past events are just that, in the past, and I outgrew those past experiences and have moved on.  I can think that way all I would like, but my brain has not moved on, those bad feelings still exist.  That’s when I started thinking about my shoes.  If I had a pair of ill-fitting shoes, I would get rid of them.  If the shoes didn’t fit, I would throw them out, donate them, give them away.

I was thinking, “What happens when you outgrow a pair of shoes?”  You get new ones.  My new shoes will be fancy.  My new shoes will be soft and shiny.  My new shoes will lift me up and I will feel taller and stronger than I was before.  I won’t care when people talk about my shoes, because they might, and that’s okay too. Parents of young children had it right all along, when you buy your kid new pairs of sneakers each year, they offer a new start to the kid, and they are pretty and they smell nice.

Growth is good and also inevitable, even if you don’t want it.  I outgrew my shoes.

If something doesn’t feel right and it’s too tight, don’t wear it just because you have worn it in the past, that’s not you anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still exhausted, confused, and a bit cross, it’s just that today I realized why I have been self doubting, and I can change those shoes.

* Featured image at top of page courtesy siewlian



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