Growing Sunflowers

“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.

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The delicious food shared by Sunflower Club members at our meetings.

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.

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A Sunflower Club Tip from Ms. Jang

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.

Haven’t Met You Yet

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!

Leaving Legacies

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.

 

 

A+ Beginnings

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Pictured with Rosemary Grimm, 2018 Louisiana Elementary Teacher of the Year

 

In February, I had the distinct honor of joining the Louisiana A+ (LAA+) Foundation as a fellow. Truthfully, I had heard about this organization over the past several years, but my knowledge was very limited. One of the candidates for the 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, Rosemary Grimm, served as a LAA+ fellow. As she talked about the myriad of ways she integrated the arts into her class, I was extremely impressed and eager to learn more. When I was contacted by Rosemary about nominating me for a fellowship, I immediately agreed.

I met all of the fellows near Alexandria for a retreat in February. I must admit that I was nervous yet excited about meeting everyone. The fellows turned out to be a mixed group of classroom teachers, art specialists, school administrators, and supervisors. I was amazed to realize that I had met many of the fellows in the past. However, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be a surprise. Great teachers are going to find ways to improve their teaching. It is inevitable that I would have met many of these great educators in the course of seeking my own personal growth.

The entire weekend could be summed up in one word, inspiring. I was inspired by the passion of the fellows. I was inspired by the various methods that were explored in integrating the arts across the curriculum, and I was inspired by the possibilities for further growth.

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Members of Red Stick Orff serving as LA+ Fellows

 

LAA+ works with schools on integrating arts across the curriculum. As a fellow, I have the opportunity to serve as a facilitator for integrating the arts for schools that are a part of the LAA+ network. I am eagerly looking forward to learning more about my role as a fellow, and I can’t wait for our next meeting in the fall.

To learn more about the Louisiana A+ Schools, you can visit the following website: http://www.aplusla.org/

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Learning how to use Google Images to inspire to students create meaningful questions

Do Your Best

David Morales, the 2016 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, has been sharing on social media a “Teacher Quote of the Day”. While I’ve enjoyed reading each of his quotes, it has also made me question, “What quote truly symbolizes me as a teacher?” After much reflection, I realized my teaching philosophy is best expressed by a quote from Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I am now on my 17th year of teaching. I must admit that everything about my teaching including lesson planning, classroom management, differentiation, curriculum, questioning, technology integration, and classroom organization is significantly better than my first year of teaching. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t try my best in my first year. Instead, it means I have learned a better way of doing things over time.

While some of this growth has come from experience and learning from my mistakes, I’d attribute a lot of my progress to the fact that I was always searching for ways to improve. This quest to discover “better” methods is what has driven me to join various professional organizations and to constantly seek professional development opportunities. More importantly, this has inspired me to reach out to as many different educators as possible. Each one has had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.

Even though I have received many accolades for my teaching, I am still seeking out ways that I can be “better”. For our personal learning community (PLC) meetings, the enrichment teachers decided to do a book study on the book, Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and Other Special Areas. We already love that the book is geared to our specific areas of instruction, and it gives many examples of how the methods in the book can be geared to each of our classrooms.

For our last meeting, the enrichment teachers read the chapter on “Opening Routines: Setting a Positive Tone”. Then, we discussed ideas we planned to try. I can’t wait to share in our next meeting the successful changes I’ve made to my opening routines. One recent change I loved was asking the “Pelican of the Week” for each third grade class to go to my promethean board and notate a melody using the pitches “Do”, “Re”, and “Mi”. While the “Pelican of the Week” was composing, I was checking the role. Then, the class discussed and performed the composition. This simple change has given me opportunities to assess composing, reading, and singing in just two minutes of class time. As a teacher, seeing the impact of the small changes is inspiring.

As we continue in the second nine weeks of school, I promise to give my best each and every. At the same time, I promise to never stop seeking a better way.

Let’s Say Nice Things

Throughout the month of September, students in St. Tammany Parish Public Schools are taking part in anti-bullying lessons from the Bystander Revolution. In honor of this program, I would like to share a simple game called “Let’s Say Nice Things” that was created by my sister.

A year ago my sister, Beth Feller, was seeking to encourage my young nieces to be more involved in the conversations at dinner while reinforcing the use of kind words. Therefore, Beth made up a simple little chant:

Let’s say nice things,
Let’s say nice things,
Let’s say nice things
All about __________ .

My nieces would pick the name of the person that they wanted to say “nice things” about, and everyone will tap the beat on the table while saying the chant. Then, each person takes a turn saying something “nice” about the person selected. Sometimes, the things that are shared are funny. Other times, the honoree is moved to tears. Either way, the entire family finishes dinner with positive feelings.

While this is a great game that any family can use, it can also be easily adapted to use in the classroom. Let’s make saying nice things our goal each day!

I am Ready

Music Room

Throughout the summer, I’ve been frequently asked the question, “Are you ready for school to start?”  Each time my answer has been, “Yes, I am ready.” While the answer has remained the same, the reasons behind the answer have varied.

In June, I was ready after I had completed the basic outline for the upcoming school year. I have mapped out each grade’s performances and the time needed to prepare students for these performances. While the minute details will be determined once I get to know my students, this outline will help me effectively plan the curriculum for the year.

On July 12th, my classroom was ready. I had been invited to present for St. Tammany Parish School System’s New Teacher Induction. By having my classroom set-up, the new teachers gained a greater understanding of my routines and classroom management.

I was ready on July 29th after I had spent the day learning, creating, and making music at the Red Stick Orff Chapter’s first workshop of the year. While the purpose of the workshop was to help me learn new activities to share with my students, it reminded me of why I love music and the joy I experience when I share that love with my students.

I volunteered to help with new student registration at my school last Thursday. As I talked with many of the new pelicans, I knew I was ready to learn about the talents and interests of all of my students. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish this year!

School starts on Thursday. It will be my seventeenth year of teaching. I know that there will be challenges and victories this year. Most importantly, there will be music- music that brings the entire school together in beautiful harmony. I am ready.