It’s Not About Test Scores

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

As teachers it is hard not to have your identity wrapped up in student performance.  The data driven environment of today’s educational system points its finger at us.  We are to blame both for bad scores and for good ones.  Unfortunately, we have internalized that mindset and we measure ourselves by the same standard.  We ride the I-am-a- good-teacher-bad-teacher roller coaster in our own minds.  Depending on the day and the test results, our emotions can range from top-of-the-world happy to down-in-the-dumps sad.  This is no way to live.  In fact, it is psychologically damaging.  Instead of focusing on test results try looking for non-test victories.

  • Students gained the courage to try.
  • Students played well together.
  • Students took care of one another.
  • Students had fun.
  • Students believed they are valuable.
  • Students gained self-confidence.

If you are facilitating these things in your classroom, you are a good teacher.  Period. Your identity is not based on scores. You are making a difference in the lives of children. You are important. You are building the future.  They won’t remember the tests.  They will remember you and how you made them feel.

Dear Olympians

 

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programing to bring you the Rio Olympics…

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Dear Olympians,

Thank you.  Thank you for reminding us that there can be peace among nations.  Thank you for your excellence.  You showed us that hard work and dedication pays off.  You inspired us to want to be committed to something.  Something bigger than us.  Something that requires sacrifice. Something that builds character.  It was good to be reminded that it is possible to be both in competition and respectful at the same time.  It was refreshing to see that the ideals of sportsmanship, courteousness, and consideration are not lost.

As always, there were stunning victories. Beautiful to the eye.  Breathtaking in their beauty and excellence.  There were astonishing defeats.  The kind that shock and stun us.  Yet, even in the heartbreak moments you stood tall.  Even with the disappointment rolling down your cheeks you were Olympians. There were injuries, falls, and failures but you got up and kept going.  You persevered.  You proved you were worthy of the title.  In all of the events you did your best.  We love you for that.

For two short weeks you made us forget the violence, the disagreements, and the disunity of our world. It is the goal of the games, is it not?  To unify the world, no matter what is happening.  You proved that when we put aside our disputes and instead, celebrate our differences, a mutual respect bonds us together. You showed us that medal counts are more fun than body counts…and that even medal counts aren’t really the point.  The thrill of the competition, the honor of being chosen, the joy of completing a long chased dream, the excitement of being on a world stage, the love of sport, the sheer beauty of fans and athletes of ALL countries sharing the elation of the games…THESE are the things that inspire us.  YOU inspire us.  From the bottom of our hearts we say thank you.

Sincerely,

Michelle Gunnin

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Unfortunately, you may now resume your regularly scheduled programing

 

 

Homework Wars

Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

cryingWe’ve all had them.  The meltdowns.  The frustrations.  The total breakdowns.  We’ve also tried every possible solution.  Bribery.  Gentleness.  Anger.  Begging.  What is it about homework that brings out the worst in kids?  I believe they think if they work all day, they shouldn’t have to work when they get home, and I must say they kind of have a point.  I mean, I don’t want to come home after working all day and do more work either.  But as much as I don’t like homework, I recognize the need for it.  I am a teacher after all.  It is a time to practice the skills taught.  A time to solidify knowledge. Skipping doing it is not an option.  Here are some tips to help tame homework time. Keep in mind that each child is different and what works for one may not work for another…in other words you may have to try all of these tips until you find one that works!

  • Do homework first thing when you get home. Set the child down at the table with no distractions.  Sit with him/her while they work.  Have them explain what they are working on to you.
  • Hahaha…yeah right! So if the first one doesn’t work try this.  Set a timer.  Make it a game.  How many math problems can you do in 5 minutes? Set it again…can you beat that number in the next 5 minutes?  This kind of timing works especially well for competitive boys.  It turns homework into a race against themselves.
  • Allow them to work on the floor or in a chair, with music in the background. I know it goes against everything in you…but not every person can work sitting at a desk.  Horrors!!  I don’t get it either, but I have found that allowing a child to work in a comfortable way for them gets more done.  The key is they have to be WORKING.  If they start playing, or dozing…to the desk they go. Same if the music starts to distract…it goes off.
  • Chunk it. Many kids struggle with feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work…especially after a long day.  They think they will NEVER finish.  Use a piece of blank paper to cover all but one question.  Sounds crazy, I mean they know there are more under that paper, but the effect is remarkable.  When they can only see one thing their mind doesn’t jump ahead. This works for reading too…use the paper to track each sentence. It rests on what they see and it seems to go by faster
  • Give them a break first. Let them play (preferably outside) or have a snack.  Set a start time and hold them to it.  You have 30 minutes, then we get to the homework.  For some kids this is all they need…a break.  Once again I can’t blame them, I kind of need one too.  However, you have to stick to the time set. Once you let them slide, they will use it against you FOREVER.
  • Last resort.   Hold those video games hostage until the homework is finished.  Hey…sometimes it is all that works.  You have to remember YOU are the parent and you have to act like it.  Just remind yourself that the practice they are getting at home will set them up for success at school the next day when the teacher has to move on to a new concept.
  • The ultimate solution…sign them up for the afterschool program (or a tutor…shameless plug). It costs, but when you pick them up, their homework is FINISHED already. I say that is a worthy investment into your child’s future…and your sanity.

 

Guest Blog

I was going to write a new blog, but when I saw this I thought it too important and well written not to share.   From Glennon Melton.  Thanks for acknowledging and respecting teachers.  Well said Glennon!

What to Say When Your Kid Gets Busted

 

Sunday Afternoon Blues

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations and tips to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

IMG_9673Sunday Afternoon Blues are experienced by most teachers on a weekly basis, right after their Sunday afternoon nap.  Somewhere around 4:00 p.m. the reality sets in that you have to work on the lesson plans you have been putting off all weekend.  The problem with this tendency to procrastinate is that there is a black cloud hanging over your head all weekend.  This makes Sunday afternoon a grumpy time, and let’s admit, it isn’t really fair for our families to take the brunt of this weekly practice.  Here are some tips to avoid the dread and improve your Sundays.

  • Begin on Wednesday thinking ahead for the following week. What kids are getting it?  Who still needs help?  Is there an assessment you need to give? What resources do you need to start gathering?
  • Thursday sit down and sketch out the plan. It can still change as you meet with your team etc… but at least you have some idea of what you want to do.
  • Friday solidify your activities for the next week and pull together copies and resources.

If you are one to ignore the previous three tips, welcome to the Procrastinator’s Club.  90% of all teachers are in this club and pretty much hate the 10% who can actually follow the first three steps.  Seriously, if you are a put-it-off teacher that is okay.  It works for you.  However, if it causes stress, and disharmony in your home you might want to try a couple of things to make it a tad bit easier.

  • Keep sticky notes with you at your table where your groups meet, or on your desk…wherever you work.
  • Throughout the week jot down things on said notes such as page numbers or ideas for a group activity, or maybe a list of students names who need something extra. Whatever thoughts you have regarding what needs to happen for a given subject area based on what you are seeing at that very moment. These don’t have to be full sentences even…just bullet points. Each day gather all the sticky notes and put them on your desk or, depending on how big your piles are, stick them to the white board. On Friday, stick the notes on your computer so when you open up on Sunday afternoon your ideas are all there for you.
  • Sort your notes into different subjects/groups.
  • Write your plans using the notes.
  • Get to school on Monday morning to run copies for Monday’s activities. You will have to stand in line behind all the other Procrastinator Club members, so make sure you are there EARLY.  Monday afternoon run copies for the rest of the week.

Hopefully these tips will prevent Sunday Afternoon Blues, or at least diminish their unfortunate side effects.

Wild and Untamed

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God often speaks to me through nature.  There is something about a waterfall, or a misty mountain that is soothing to my heart.  To be out in the forest on a trail is the place I get to know him best.  Somehow becoming familiar with the creation opens my eyes to the creator.  His personality shines through in the rays filtering through the trees to the forest floor.  The variety of mosses and ferns create a lush green carpet which point to the intricate complexity of his nature.  Being a hiker, I have come to know him through my senses.  He is alive.  Real.  His life pulses in the out of the way places.  He is as steadfast as mountains, as joyful as rivers, as peaceful as a lake, as powerful as a waterfall, and all of this has become familiar to me.  It feeds my soul.

When we went to visit Hannah in Seattle this summer, I was excited to get to explore a new region of the country.  Surrounded by several different mountain ranges it is a hot spot for outdoor types and lovers of nature. I wish I had the time to describe our daily adventures in detail, but there are really not enough words to tell you how spectacular it was. It was truly inspiring. Every. Single. Day.  However, there was something vastly unfamiliar in these places of stunning beauty, and this had me flummoxed for the first couple of days. Until I realized that it was the nature of God that was different.  Allow me to explain.

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In the evergreen forests the trees are straight as arrows and taller than any trees I have seen before.  Their arms do not reach up, but slant downward as if they are bowing.  The mountainsides are jagged, not smooth.  The reddish rock is exposed everywhere upon the faces of the mountains, bringing serrated texture which reaches towards the sky. The heavens vacillate between gray and blue on the days we are there, with misty rain or blinding sun depending on which way the wind is blowing. The palette is different here, mainly greens, grays, and blues with a few browns mixed in. It is a cool palette that is dissimilar than the warm one I am used to. In the woods, the underbrush isn’t thick, but sparse.  Pine needles cover the ground like carpet and they pad your steps.  The path the waterfalls take is carved from black volcanic rock, like a flume from a water ride rather than dirt and mud. Ferns to my waist cover the ground, so I wade in an ocean of them.  Gigantic trees are smaller cousins to the Redwoods, but bigger than any I have ever seen.  I have the need to pat and hug them, these ancients.  Standing in their presence brings awe to my soul.  I am acutely aware of how small I am in this forest. I fully expect to see a T-Rex come around the bend at any moment, because these forests look prehistoric.

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The coastal landscape is equally amazing.  The water, whether it is the sound or the sea, is clear, crisp and COLD.  My feet turn to ice the moment they go into the sea, but I am determined to wade in the Pacific while we are there.  It rushes in with force enough to bring huge driftwood trees to the shore.  It carves rock into haystacks of enormous proportions, and creates caves and cliffs that take my breath away. There are islands and each one looks untouched and a bit wild in its stance.  Like guardians of the coast.  The glacier fed rivers are transparent ice water which magnifies the rocks in the bed underneath. Every one of them a skipping stone in their perfectly round smooth shapes and colors. The grandeur of every scene we encounter is enough to have me pulling out my woefully inadequate phone camera, in hopes that one of the million photos I take will do the scenery justice. It does not.  Can not.  There is only the moment and I decide to forego the camera…but only until the next curve has me trying to capture it once again.

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In this place I hear God.  I see him.  But not in the way I am used to. Here he is the Ancient of Days. The one from the beginning of time and before that.  He is wild, untamed and passionately creative.  His love is fierce and full of power. His freedom is immense and flows out like the wind, if I will just risk the ride.  It is not a safe place…it is a wild place.  This part of him is unfamiliar to me, and once again I am reintroduced to this God whom I love.  I am reminded that his bigness is incomprehensible, and that the more I know him, the more I don’t know him. It is yet another side of his character that is multifaceted and can never be fully known. My new image of the ferocious love of God is enough to make me realize that he will never let me go.  His ancient-before-the-dawn-of-time grace will not let him.  As small as I am, he takes care to nurture my spirit even among the giant prehistoric landscape.  It humbles me that in these places of such stunning wild beauty, that the Ancient One considers me beautiful.  It is beyond my grasp.  It will take an eternity to explore him and I cannot wait!

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Pointers for Parents

Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

IMG_9673 I don’t know when the relationship between parents and teachers became so adversarial.  I think when the finger pointers in our world started blaming teachers for all the ills of society it planted a seed of distrust in the minds of the public.  Teachers are government employees after all, and we all know the government cannot be trusted.  Haha.

Seriously, the relationship between teachers and parents is strained, and that is to the detriment of our kids. I know there are some bad teachers out there, but the majority of the ones I know are in the profession for the love of children and the love of learning.  They pour out blood, sweat and tears over their students.  The time they invest in their craft is mind boggling. There are some bad parents out there, but again, the ones I know would die for their kids.  They work hard to make sure their kids are provided for and taken care of.  They absolutely want the best for their kids.

In an effort to build bridges, I am starting a regular feature called Pointers for Parents.  It is similar to the Tidbits for Teachers I started a few weeks ago.

Here are some ways to start the school year off in a positive direction.

  • Give your child’s teacher the benefit of the doubt. Use the saying innocent until proven guilty.  Clear anything you have heard about this teacher from your mind.  Go into the relationship with the view of being co-workers for your child’s academic success.
  • Understand that teachers are NOT trying to usurp your authority. Trust me, most teachers have their own children at home and they are not trying to be a parent to your child.  They truly want to teach them, not rule their lives.  They simply want education to be a priority because they work so hard to teach, and they know if there isn’t support at home they will have to work twice as hard…and so will the student.
  • Be respectful of teachers. They have spent years earning multiple degrees and certifications.  They have poured out money to make sure their classrooms have all that they need.  More importantly they have put love into everything they do. They know what they are doing.  They have taught hundreds of children and they know what works. Trust that experience.  If you still cannot agree, please go directly to them in a respectful way to discuss the situation, rather than yelling or calling the school board first, try expressing your concerns and listening to what the teacher has to say.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher. I cannot stress this enough.  If you are in regular contact with the school, your child will learn that you and their teacher are a unified front that works together. He/she will understand that together you are working to make him/her successful…which is the whole point.

Stay tuned for more Pointers for Parents and Tidbits for Teachers by subscribing to my blog. Feel free to share with others who want to build bridges.

A Prayer

IMG_9672Father God,

I come to you on behalf of the educators, parents, and students that are beginning another school year.  I bring them to you and lift them up.  Please impart your wisdom.  Calm the jitters that come with every new year.  Give the teachers creativity to teach lessons in ways that sink in.  Help them to cease being overwhelmed, and to relax and do what they know to do.  You have gifted them, you have given them the abilities and the intuition to know what is best for their students.  You have blessed them with the skills to read not only books but to read children.  To see them for who they are, to know what areas need strengthening and what areas they can excel further.  You have given teachers vision to see their students as you see them…valuable, beautiful, and important children who have so much to offer the world.  Help them to remember that the students are why they do what they do.  Give them the ability to separate all the busy work from the real work.

I pray for the parents of each child.  That they would be a stable factor in the lives of their children. That they would realize that they are an important part of the educational puzzle.  Give them the insight as to how to contribute and enhance the process.  I pray for unity between parents and teachers, that they would collaborate with joy and work together for the betterment of the kids.  Give the parents awareness as to how to bring balance to their children’s lives.  I pray that the love of the parents would seep into the children, giving them confidence to try new things, to reach for their dreams, to stretch themselves, to be motivated to learn and to have a love of learning.

I pray for the administrators, that they would use wisdom to make decisions that would benefit the students.  Give them your grace to lead well.  Surround them with those who will call them higher and bring them to a place where greatness can happen daily.  I pray for the seamless transition for all the new administrators, that they would have the unity they need to run schools. Help them to support their teachers, and the teachers to support the administration.  I pray for unity and a bond of peace.  I ask your presence rest on them, guide them and direct them into the place that you have for them.  Strengthen them in their inner man, give them the fortitude to operate in integrity and the courage to stand for the students in every situation.

I pray for the students.  Give them the desire to learn.  Help them to focus and give them the heart to try their best.  Encourage them when they are discouraged as only you can do. Surround them with your presence so that they feel peace.  Give them the ability to take in the knowledge presented to them.  But also help them to learn more than just academics, like how to get along with others, how to persevere when things get tough, how to have fun, how to communicate well, how to work together as a team, how to complete things that are not always fun, how to believe in themselves.  Give them eyes to see themselves as you do…as treasured children.

I give all of this to you Lord.  Only you can accomplish it, and you are more than able to do so.  Take care of my school family Lord…I do love them so.  In Jesus name, Amen.

New Endeavors

IMG_0749Life is full of surprises.  For example, I never imagined I would have the words business owner next to my name at age 52.  Michelle Gunnin B.S., M.A., and Business Owner. Say what?   Instead of winding down towards retirement, I am gearing up to build something new.  Taking on challenges is something I know how to do, so this is simply that…a new challenge.  I am finding it requires a different skill set than teaching does.  However, I am also finding that my past experiences make it a fit for me and that what skills I don’t have, my partner Mary does have. We are a team.  We joke that between us we have a whole brain!

IMG_2087The freedom to create our own schedule, our own pricing, our own lessons, our own way to assess is mindboggling.  Twenty years of being told how to do everything is a hard mindset to break.  When Mary and I were discussing how to show documentation of our lessons we had an epiphany, we are no longer required to PROVE that we know what we are doing.  We simply do it and it speaks for itself.  Plan the lesson.  Teach the lesson.  Pretty simple.  Amazingly simple.  Finding the right strategy for each student has long been our specialty, so this new thing is giving us the ability to do it for each child we work with.  What a gift that is!

As exciting as it is to be doing what we love in a new format, there are mixed feelings.  While all our teaching friends are getting ready for the new school year we are not…not in the usual way anyway.  The comradery of a school family is missing, and I’ll be honest, it stings a bit.  If I had left under better circumstances, I think it might not be as difficult.  However, since I left against my will, I find myself grieving the loss of my teaching career.  I feel passed over, pushed to the side, run off, and left behind.  In a way, I feel like my career was stolen from me before it was time, even though the choice was mine to make. My friendships with colleagues will change no matter how much I don’t want them to.  How can they not?  When you do not see people every day things just change, and that is as big a loss as not teaching.  My heart is bleeding.

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Doing the same thing every year for 20 years, it is ingrained in my identity.  It is who I am…a teacher.  When that schedule was interrupted suddenly it felt as if I was in a free fall.  It has taken some time to remember that who I am is not dictated by the job I do.  Adjusting to the free fall is much like jumping out of an airplane.  The first step was the scariest.  Now I am adapting to the feeling of flying, not knowing exactly if the parachute will open or where I will land.  If it sounds scary it is because it is.  Yet, the freedom of the flight is worth the risk.  If I crash at least I can say I went out in a blaze of glorious freedom!

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I do believe in healing of wounded hearts.  I know the healer personally.  I also know myself, and that for me to step into a change this momentous, I had to be forced into it.  Usually it is how God does things with me…allows it to blow up in my face, and THEN I move towards change, out of survival.  He knows me so well.  I sometimes wish I would learn to move BEFORE things implode on me.  Haha.  This change was a needed one.  It is a good one.  Hard, but good.  As the new school year begins I wish my teacher friends the best of years!  I pray for you daily, because you are on the frontlines.  I wish the parents a smooth beginning and transition to new grade levels and higher expectations.  Most of all I wish the students the best possible year where learning is both exciting and fun! I also wish myself and my business partner an adventurous year in which the parachute will open and we will glide to the perfect landing in our new endeavors.

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P.S. We did NOT go skydiving…these pictures are from the internet.🙂

 

 

Entertaining Strangers

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

IMG_9673Hospitality is not something I typically associate with teachers…not in the sense of my usual definition anyway.  I was raised in the South where hospitality means food, conversation, and laughter. It is sitting around the table and connecting with guests before tucking them into clean sheets and a warm comforter at night. It means taking care of your guests needs before they know they have them.  The word derives from the Latin word hospes meaning –host, guest, stranger.  The ity at the end means -the condition of being.  Hospitality is the condition of being a host to a guest or stranger. Typically, I think of it as something I show at home, not at work.  However, I think there is such a thing as an attitude of hospitality, therefore it is something you can take with you.

As teachers we invite children and their parents into our spaces. We work so very hard to make those spaces pleasant places to be for that very reason, so they feel comfortable.  We make every effort to meet their needs before they know they have them. We want them to feel welcomed and cared for.  At the beginning of the year we are welcoming strangers.  They are our guests. It is a completely different skill set than teaching lessons, and we are good at it…even if we weren’t raised in the South.  :)

Continue in brotherly love. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2

 P.S. Teachers already know that those strangers who show up in our spaces are angels.