“You can count on me like one two three
I’ll be there.
And I know when I need it,
I can count on you like four three two
You’ll be there.
‘Cause that’s what friends are supposed to do, oh yeah.”
It’s amazing. While we are all practicing being physically distant, the connections between students, parents, and educators are stronger than ever. If you need to see examples, be sure to check out Dream Teachers on Facebook. They are sharing stories of how educators throughout the state of Louisiana are overcoming obstacles to connect with students. I have been proud to do my part with creating music lessons to be shared on STPPS Remote Learning Resources TV along with sharing a “Music Idea of the Day” on my Facebook page, “Kelly Stomps, 2016 Louisiana Teacher of the Year.” I am also happy to share with everyone my “Musical Conversation Calendar” for April. Again, the purpose of the calendar is to facilitate conversations about music. You can easily Google anything that is unknown. While the last few weeks have been difficult for all, I am grateful to have wonderful students, parents, teachers, administrators, friends, and family members to “count on.”
While my last blog was centered around a song from Frozen 2, my mind kept coming back to another song from the Disney hit, “Some Things Never Change”. In the movie, the characters are singing about how things do not change as little changes kept occurring all around. The song is a foreshadowing of the changes that were later to come in the movie. As we are now in the midst of a pandemic, change is all around us. The constants of the rhythm of school day and school year have disappeared for teachers and students. While we are all coping with the changes, I have turned my mind to focusing on the things that have not changed. Here is my list:
Relationships with Students Matter: This is a constant message that I am hearing between conversations with fellow educators and observing social media posts. Educators are continuing to put personal relationships with students first. From checking in on the well-being of students through Zoom, texts, google hangouts, phone calls, and hand-written letters to driving through neighborhoods of students with signs, teachers are focused on supporting their relationships with students while sharing the messages “We miss you” and “We are here for you”. We’re a Team: Teachers, students, and parents are a team. Working together, we are ensuring that each student has what he/she needs in order to succeed. The important aspect is that we are keeping the lines of communication open even as we are practicing social distancing. Teachers are Learners: Everywhere I look there are examples of teachers learning new skills. From learning to utilize technology available to participating in online book clubs, teachers are focused on grasping this opportunity to grow. Next on my list of skills to learn is Screencastify. Thanks to Spencer Kiper, 2019 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, for offering to help! Which brings me to my next point… Teachers Help Other Teachers: Wow! The support from other educators has been overwhelming. Facebook groups, instructional videos, blogs, e-mails, phone calls, and texts are just a few of the ways teachers are sharing what they know with other educators. It’s beautiful. It’s inspiring. There is nothing we can’t accomplish because we are all in this together. Teachers are Persistent: Just two weeks ago, I and my fellow educators could not envision how we would address students’ needs with online learning. However, we’re persistent. We’re determined. We won’t let the closing of schools mean the end of learning. All around, you can see examples of creativity, innovative thinking, and the relentless determination to overcome this challenge. This is the same persistence that teachers bring to supporting their students in the classroom day in and day out.
Teachers Support the Community: From donating much needed cleaning materials and medical equipment to distributing food to students, teachers are finding ways that they can support those in need. Where does this drive to volunteer spring from? It comes from knowing that every action benefits the ones they love the most, their students.
While these are just a few of the things that I have noticed that have not changed, I know that there are many more. As the song says, “Some things never change, and I’m holding on tight to you.” America, teachers are holding on tight for you!
“Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing”
So much has changed in one week! While we are all coming to terms with the changes, I have been brainstorming ways to support students, parents, and fellow educators. I have already started sharing one fun music idea a day through social media, but I thought this would be a good time to start sharing my “Musical Conversations Calendars” again. One of my goals as a elementary music teacher is to encourage my students to participate in a variety of conversations about music. As many people are now navigating the unchartered territory of homeschooling, I hope this calendar will facilitate conversations about music, bring everyone together, and encourage creativity. It’s okay for you or your children to not know all of the answers. You can find the answers for everything shared using Google. You may also reach out to me if you have any questions. While we are all finding our way, I chose to follow the advice of Anna in Frozen 2. I am going to keep sharing ideas as I am able and focus on doing, “The next right thing.”
Goodnight music room. Goodnight sticks.
Good night to the instruments the kids loved to pick.
Goodnight boomwhackers. Goodnight bells.
Goodnight to the books with stories to tell.
Goodnight computers. Goodnight Promethean Board.
Goodnight to the new, laminate wood floors.
Goodnight xylophones. Good night ukuleles.
Goodnight to helping a friend learn to play.
While it’s strange to be saying goodnight just as our learning was really taking flight,
remember this is for all to be well and when the night is over the music will swell.
It will be filled with joy and delight all because we had to say goodnight.
“If I were a flower.. I would be a sunflower. To always follow the sun, Turn my back to darkness, Stand proud, tall and straight even with my head full of seeds.” – Unknown
In order to improve school safety, the St. Tammany Parish School System took steps to include School Resource Officers and full-time Mental Health Providers (MHP) at each school for the 2018-2019 school year. Both initiatives, I can easily celebrate in my blogging. However, I would like to focus on the impact of our new MHP for this blog.
I first met Woodlake’s new MHP, In Gyu Jang, at a “Back to School Barbecue” for the faculty. Within ten minutes of meeting Ms. Jang, I knew that she would be a blessing for the students of Woodlake Elementary School. What I didn’t realize was that she would also be a blessing for our entire faculty.
At the beginning of the year, Ms. Jang was busy getting to know students, teachers, parents, and school routines. Each grade level has a Professional Learning Community or PLC meeting once a month. Ms. Jang attended all the grade level PLC meetings while officially joining the Enrichment Team which includes the Art, Music, Library, Guidance, and PE teachers. In September, Ms. Jang told me about an approach to social and emotional learning called Conscious Discipline, and she explained all the ways this approach would benefit our students- especially the students that have been through serious trauma. She then asked if she could introduce information about Conscious Discipline to the Enrichment Team at our next PLC meeting. My immediate response was, “Yes”.
In her first presentation, Ms. Jang introduced Conscious Discipline along with teaching about mirror neurons and breathing techniques. The meeting was over far too quickly, and the Enrichment Team left energized about these new approaches to social and emotional learning. The next day was the meeting for our Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) Team. There, Ms. Jang was asked to share a little bit about this new approach. By the next week, interest had greatly grown and the Sunflower Club was formed.
Why “Sunflowers”? While brainstorming names for the club, I happened upon a blog, https://exploringyourmind.com/lessons-sunflowers-always-turn-toward-light/. The words in the blog resonated with the purpose of the club. Our goal was to foster collaboration and empower faculty members to through S.E.L.F.-C.A.R.E (Social and Emotional Learning Fellowship- Collaborative Adventure of Relationship Building and Empowerment). Basically, we are encouraging each other to become a positive light that will guide our students through their social and emotional needs. The Sunflower Club is open to all faculty and staff members of Woodlake and meets twice a month after school. In the meetings, Ms. Jang shares tips and techniques for social and emotional learning through Conscious Discipline methods. The attendees brainstorm ways the tips can be implemented in the classroom. Following the meeting, the participants apply the ideas within the classroom and school community. In our next meeting, we share results.
While I love that the Sunflower Club is building a positive culture of collaboration, the best part is being able to witness the impact our new methods are having on students. We now have common signals, words, and actions that students understand. Recently, I had a student with a behavior disorder that was shining a small light into the eyes of other students while I was on morning duty. While this boy has often reacted negatively to things being taken away in the past, I was able to utilize the breathing techniques I knew he’d learned with Ms. Jang to get him to calmly hand me the light. What a huge difference!
I eagerly look forward to the Sunflower Club meetings. I’m thankful for this opportunity to grow in my teaching practice even as we are building a strong, positive school culture. While the teachers are becoming sunflowers, Ms. Jang is our sunshine. She is a positive beacon of light guiding us along our journey of self-growth.
Recently, I had the honor of attending the 12th Annual Cecil J. Picard Educator Excellence Awards. As I eagerly waited to see who would be named the 2019 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, I reflected on the night I was named Teacher of the Year three years ago. While I received incredible prizes like a one-year lease for a Mercedes Benz and Community Coffee for a year for my school, the greatest prize I received was “yet” to come. There is a wonderful TED talk by Tanya Menon on “The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven’t Met Yet.” Her presentation is a great example of why being named State Teacher of the Year is life-altering thanks to the people you meet. They inspire you, teach you, challenge you, and support you as you grow in your new endeavors. As Spencer Kiper’s name was announced as the 2019 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, I knew that he had no idea of the people he was “yet” to meet and how they would forever impact his life.
Now that the teaching award celebrations are over for another year, my attention has turned to the new school year. I can’t help but wonder about the people I’ve “yet” to meet. From new faculty members, students, parents, grandparents, to volunteers, I know there are a lot of new faces that will be coming into my life. While I am preparing my classroom and curriculum for the year ahead, the question I keep wondering is, “How will the people I’ve yet to meet help me grow this year?” While I don’t know the answer to that question just yet, I can’t wait to get started on finding the answer. To all my education friends, here’s to a great school year and the people we’ve yet to meet!
I had the honor of serving on the panel for interviewing the finalists for the 2019 Louisiana Teacher of the Year. Wow! Words can’t express how difficult it was to select the overall state teacher of the year and division winners. Each teacher had compelling stories to share about education. Each one had a powerful platform that needs to be heard. While each had unique talents and expertise, they all shared some things in common. The most important element being that they truly loved teaching, and they truly loved their students.
The announcements for the 2019 Teacher of the Year will take place at the 2018 Awards Gala on Friday, July 27, 2018. The theme for the gala this year is “Leaving Legacies”. While driving home following the interview process, I thought of the nine finalists and the legacies they have already left on education. I also thought about the legacies they will leave in the future, and a song came to mind. There is a beautiful song performed by Norah Jones called “American Anthem” that is dedicated to those that have served in our nation’s military. However, I believe these lyrics also serve as a wonderful tribute to the nine inspiring and talented educators that were chosen as finalist for Louisiana Teacher of the Year:
What shall be our legacy? What will our children say? Let them say of me, I was one who believed in sharing the blessings I received. Let me know in my heart when my days are through, America, America, I gave my best to you.
Thank you to Spencer Kiper, Kathryn Ferguson, Elizabeth Gregorie, Kristen Bruce, Susan Mingee, Caitlin-Meehan Draper, Stephen Goodily, Keyre’ Bradford, and Tasha Jolivette-Jones for giving your very best to the children of America!*
*Names are listed in the order that they were interviewed.