Love Over Tolerance

Tolerance. Every time I hear that word directed at a child, an adult, a group of people, or any person at all, I cringe. People do not want to be tolerated. You yourself do not want to be tolerated. You tolerate slow traffic, Monday mornings, or the long line at the grocery store, but you do not tolerate people. People want to be loved. You want to be loved. People want to know they matter and that others care about them. Our ability to love and our desire to be loved is what makes us human. It’s at the core of humanity. Why would anyone purposely choose to withhold that from another?

Every day we come across people that do things that annoy us, we don’t agree with, or that make us uncomfortable. It’s the beauty of the diversity of the human race. We can choose to love those people in spite of those things, we can merely tolerate them, or we can do things far worse. It’s when people make a choice other than love, that I remember that humanity is flawed. We are imperfect. But if you think about it, perhaps that is what makes the decision to love all that more powerful. When the choice is made to withhold the thing we long for so deeply from others, I see a missed opportunity. The chance to love presented itself, but was not taken.

I truly believe with all my heart that love is not merely a feeling, but also a choice. We can choose those we give our love to or we can choose to keep it to ourselves. However, when I look at myself and see my own desire for acceptance, care, and unconditional love, I don’t understand why I would sometimes choose to keep my love from anyone. Loving others isn’t always easy, but when we see it as choice, we give ourselves to power love anyway. I’m giving myself the power to love anyway.

I am going to make the decision to love everyone. Unconditionally. You should too.

photo: mhauri (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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Let’s Get Nerrdy

Christina may have gotten Dirrty, but thanks to my good friend and #EduBro, Nicholas Provenzano, we got a little Nerrdy on Episode 1 of the #NerdyCast. The Nerdy Teacher is trying his hand at podcasting and invited me along for the inaugural recording. We may have gone way over the time limit, but that’s happens when you’re having a good time. We had fun, cracked ourselves up, and actually talked about some things in education. We hope at least one other person out there appreciates our humor (besides our mothers). Thanks for the opportunity, Nick. I definitely had a blast. Without further ado…

This is the true story (true story), of two edubros deciding to appear on a podcast and have their conversation recorded, to find out what happens when Nick & Tim stop being polite and start getting nerdy. The #NerdyCast. Episode 1.

image: The Nerdy Teacher

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They Need Us, We Need Them

A Lesson From My High School Choir Teacher About What’s Important In School.

Choralair concert

In 1964, the Yuma High School Choralairs debuted, beginning a tradition that lasted for the next 46 years. For three years in high school, I was a member of the Choralairs (that’s right, I was in show choir, before show choirs were cool). I had the pleasure, along with over 30 years worth students, to be taught by Mr. Taylor McBride, one of the most dedicated and inspiring teachers I have ever known. Mr. McBride was passionate about music and he let that passion boil over until it seeped into the veins of each of his students (Mr. Holland has nothing on McBride). I learned so much about music, performing, and leadership from Mr. McBride, but looking back, I recognize that one of the greatest things he ever taught me was the powerful role that love and community should play in every classroom.

Choralairs was a show choir consisting of about 85 singers, 10 musicians, and five sound crew members each year. Choralairs was filled with students from every ethnic background and school clique, making it a unique place were diversity came together in the name of music. Membership was via tryouts and dozens of students auditioned each year to become part of the Yuma High tradition.

My senior year, I had the honor of being Choralair President and with the title came the opportunity to work with Mr. McBride and offer insight and suggestions throughout the year. During the audition process my senior year, I remember looking over the list of potential new Choralairs and scratching my head over a few that I didn’t feel quite had the talent or dedication to become a part of our group. When I brought my concern to Mr. McBride’s attention, he simply said, “Some students need Choralairs.”

At the time, I didn’t fully grasp the significance or implication of that statement (18 year olds often miss the wisdom before them). However, those words have always stayed with me. When I became a teacher, the true meaning of those words began to materialize and to this day, affect how I view the students in my school and every student I have ever taught. It wasn’t necessarily Choralairs that students needed, it’s what Choralairs offered us that everyone of us benefitted from. Mr. McBride understood that the community itself was more valuable than it’s performance.

Choralair California Trip

Choralairs offered high school students a place to be creative, to feel safe, to express their talents and passions. It offered us the opportunity to interact and be friends with students we may never have taken the time to ever get to know in high school outside of that choir room. It offered us a community, a family, and place to feel safe and be loved. We may not all have been the best singers, musicians, or techies out there, but we were a family, and together we did great things. Each of us had our strengths, not all musical, but we each had something to offer to the group. We came together with our mess, our baggage, and the struggles of being teenagers and we made people smile. We made each other smile. Choralairs not only made us better students, but better people. It wasn’t necessarily what we brought to the group, it’s what the group could bring to us.

As I look at the students in my school, the ones that have it all together and the ones that struggle just to make it through life each day, I see that we all need each other. Those students need me, they need each other, and quite honestly, I need them. They need a place to belong, a place to feel safe, a place to know without a doubt that they are loved. I need to know I make a difference and matter to each of those kids every day. They need an environment where they can make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and be loved unconditionally in the process. They need a place to blossom and find their purpose.

School is about so much more than reading, writing, and math. Yes, that stuff matters, but it definitely isn’t all that matters. School is a place where we begin to become who we will be for the rest of our lives. It’s a place where our students should feel needed, because indeed they are. Everyone single one of them. We have the power to foster that community within our building and play a part in the extraordinary lives of our students.

Mr. McBride understood that community mattered most. He realized that when students find a place where they know they belong, the talent within them has no choice but to come out and be shared with those around. I see that more than ever as I work with the students at my own school. They may be overlooked, written off, or judged by the world around them, but not by me. Each student needs to know they matter to every adult in their school. It frees them up to be who they are and share with their school community, and eventually the world, the wonderful person that they are. Our students need us, and we need them.

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WES: Behind the Lip Dub

I love internet memes. I love when ideas go viral through the power of the internet. With each reproduction, new concepts are added, different points of views are showcased, and while it may seem silly to some, people come together over a shared idea.

Last year for our school’s fifth grade graduation, the fifth grade teachers and students thought it would be a lot of fun end the ceremony with a flash mob. The kids came together to learn the words and choreography and worked hard to create a great show. The look on our principal’s face was priceless when the students interrupted his final farewell with singing and dancing. They left their mark and it’s one that still makes me smile when I think about it.

This year, we wanted to keep the theme of internet memes alive and decided to tackle the art of the lip dub. The term lip dub was first coined in back in 2006 by Jake Lodwick. It was simple, but incredibly clever. Jake filmed himself walking down the street, lip syncing along to the music on his iPod. When he got home, he dubbed the music over the footage, and Lip Dubbing: Endless Dream was the result. Over the years, Lip Dubs have gotten more complex and showy, but the concept remained the same.

Taking inspiration from many few of our favorite lip dubs on Youtube, a colleague, Mrs. Daniel, and myself got to work. Sticking with tradition, we wanted to move through the school, film the lip dub in a single unedited shot, and let the kids have some fun. We chose the song “All Star” by Smash Mouth. It’s upbeat, has great lyrics we thought the kids would have fun with, and well, we’re suckers for 90s music. We broke the song into couplets, mapped out a route through the school and brought the idea to the students.

We showed the fifth graders, two of our favorite lip dubs, Don’t Stop Believing by Bloomington High School and Party in the USA by Renton High School’s 2010 Seniors. We wanted our kids to see a diverse group of students acting goofy, being creative, and having fun in school (gasp).

The kids had mixed reactions at first. Some were on board, some were hesitant, and others were convinced their teachers just might be insane. We told students they could be in the beginning part of the lip dub or just be on the gym bleachers for the end. We wanted every student to participate, but wanted them to be comfortable. We only had about 10-15 students from each class volunteer. As students began to talk about the endeavor and share their ideas for the project, the excitement began to build. When it came time to start practicing, just about every student asked to be involved in the beginning of the lip dub. They put their guards down and were ready to have fun.

As kids began to choreograph their parts of the lip dub, decide which props they wanted to bring, and take ownership of the project, I couldn’t help but stand back and smile. Some may question the curricular significance of creating a lip dub. However, after seeing our students collaborate with each other, show off their talents, release their creativity, and have fun in the process, I’d question why every class doesn’t create one. We hardly had any behavior issues during planning, rehearsals, or filming. Just 150 fifth graders working hard with their eyes on a goal.

We practiced twice with each class individually, practiced twice with the entire grade level, walked through it once the day of filming, and then filmed three takes in a row. For the final product we decided on the third take. Each of the takes had pros and cons, but when it came down to it, the fifth grade teachers liked the third take the best.

I present to you our lip dub and hope you it brings a smile to your face. Winecoff’s Class of 2011 couldn’t stop smiling the entire time they created it.

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Thank You, Organic Chemistry

This post was written for the Project PLN Passion issue in response to the question, “Why are you passionate about education?” I only hope I did it justice.

Old Chemistry BuildingMany respond with a look of utter confusion when I explain that I turned my back on two years of pre-med classes for the picture book reading life of an elementary education major. It’s true, I wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician to be exact, and I set out on that path during the final two years of my high school career. However, deep down in my gut, I always had deep admiration for teachers. I had some of the most amazing teachers growing up, and to this day I owe a lot of who I am as a teacher to them (Thank you Mrs. Alameda & Mr. McBride). Teaching was where I was headed until the status and money perfumed fragrance of the medical profession wafted into my olfactory receptors like the aroma of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of mom’s oven. It took an organic chemistry class kicking my ass to knock some sense back into my head (and trust me, it kicked hard). It allowed me to reflect on what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I made the decision to switch my major from Microbiology to Elementary Education one night studying at a coffee shop with friends. It took all of 10 minutes to come to this realization. The encouragement of those there that night and a call to my parents, along with their complete support sealed the deal. The next day I made it official. (Peace out College of Science! What up, College of Ed?) I made the right decision. I love going to a school each day, working with students, and putting new technology into the hands of teachers and kids. I found my passion, and I love every second of it.

Students are the heart, soul, and inspiration behind what I do each day. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are days that are tough, and times when I question whether or not it’s worth it. However, all it takes a note from a 2nd grader telling me “You Rock!” or a hug from a 4th grader that sneaked out of line and into my office to put things back into perspective. I get to make a difference in the world, one student at a time and there isn’t a single job perk out there better than that (although tater tots in the cafeteria makes a compelling case for a close second). I have the pleasure and humbling experience of helping kids discover their own passions while I live out mine. I get to mentor, inspire, laugh with, and love students that may not get any of that when they leave our walls each afternoon. I get to have fun everyday, inspire staff and students, and wear chucks instead of dress shoes. When a fifth grader asked me what I was going to wear that next day to work and then showed up in the same outfit, I knew I had found my calling in this world, my true passion.

Harold Whitman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” I’m in education because it makes me come alive and I get to inspire students to do the same. Thanks for kick O-Chem, I needed it.

photo: Lucian Teo (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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Show Me What Matters

Education is full of talk, but those words can be cheap and often fail to deliver. I myself can dazzle and woo a crowd with a few keystrokes and a thesaurus, but it’s the action of showing others (or even showing yourself), that holds the real power. This weekend in Philadelphia at EduCon 2.3, people showed me what matters.

Passion Matters
I was surrounded by lovers of learning and they had no problem exuding the fact in everything they did. I listened to educators speak of their passion for students and saw them learning everywhere they were: in sessions, at the hotel, during dinner, or over a beer. I witnessed people getting fired up over their love (or hate) for MLA citation and term papers. I saw the actions of a group of individuals that care deeply about education and the students it is meant to empower. They were passionate, and passion matters.

Community Matters
My time at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) demonstrated the power of students and staff that see their school as a learning community. While eating with some SLA staff Thursday night, it was announced that Friday, the first day of EduCon, would be a snow day. Chris Lehmann told us that emails and Facebook messages were pouring in from the students that still wanted to come. SLA is a family and they weren’t going to let some snow prevent them from showing off what they have worked so hard to create. During the weekend those students came alive as they ran the show and showed us how they work together to learn. The staff and students work hard and will anything for those in their community, because community matters.

Friendships Matter
I have met some of my closest and dearest friends through Twitter. I even found a brother along the way (we’re not technically related, but don’t get bogged down by the details). I love learning, but it has a more significant impact when I am learning in the midst of others that I know care about me and the success of my students. I saw groups of people all over SLA that cared about each other and took on the responsibility of supporting each other in the task of becoming better educators. I spent some wonderful time with my friends as other did the same, because friendships matter.

Fun Matters
I fail to remember the last time I had such a great time learning with a group. The weekend was full of conversations that challenged me, made me think, and kept me smiling. During a session by Dean Shareski and Darren Kuropatwa, we were give the task of creating a photo or film trick in 25 minutes. We grabbed our phones and laptops and got to work. We had so much fun taking on that challenge and learning with each other. The nights were filled with bowling (Who knew Beth Still was secretly a pro?), karaoke, great conversations, and laughter. I had the chance to learn who these educators were beyond the classroom. I care for these people even more deeply now. The weekend was was a lot of fun, and fun matters.

What We Do Matters
Hundreds of educators from all over the world came to Philadelphia for a weekend, many on their own dime, to become better educators. Hundreds more spent their weekend joining us online. SLA students spent a snow day and their weekend putting on an education conference and providing an environment where we could learn and socialize. We had opportunities to share our expertise, learn more about our craft, and challenge our thinking. We did it, because in the end, we know it’s our students that will benefit, and that is why what we do matters.

photo: Alvin Trusty (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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I Cried With The News Tonight

I sit at my computer reading about a school shooting in Omaha, Nebraska and I lose it. Tears. Sobs. Pain. My heart aches, even though I am over a thousand miles away. I don’t know what to do, but I know I just can’t accept it and move on. These are people. The lyrics to Jack Johnson’s The News come to mind. “A billion people died on the news tonight/ But not so many cried at the terrible sight.” This is a terrible sight. Humbly I turn to writing, I’m not sure how else to deal with this.

I find myself wondering how all the people affected are dealing with what has happened today. As an educator, I connect all too closely to those in Omaha at this time. Having friends close by, makes it hit home even harder.

I think about the kids. How unnerving to suddenly find yourself caught up in chaos, confusion, fear, and the unknown. Later, to discover that two of your own are gone, one is seriously injured and everyone around you is affected.

I think about the teachers. To feel so violated and helpless. The place filled with people you love, care for, and live your life with, will never be the same. Lives are changed. Lives are lost. To be so weak, but feel you must be strong. To need someone to be strong for you. I would imagine that I’d be filled with guilt and regret. Maybe there was something I could have said that would have made a difference. All the difference.

I think about Dr. Case and Dr. Kaspar. To be in that situation is nothing less than a nightmare. Dr. Case, I pray for your healing. Dr. Kaspar, you will be missed dearly by those that love you.

I think of the family members and friends of those that had to leave us far too soon. How do you deal? How do you move on?

I think about Robert. The truth that a child was broken and hurting so much that he felt the only option was to harm others and leave the world behind breaks my heart. I’m so sorry.

Where does the world go from here? For some it’s just a passing story on the nightly news. For others, everything is different now.

The thing I take from this, is a renewed perspective as an educator. Yes, I have a responsibility to educate, but it’s also clear I have a much more important task each day when I walk onto campus. I want my coworkers and the students around me to know they matter, they are have something to offer, and they are loved.

My heart and my prayers go out the everyone at Millard School, the district, and the surrounding community. I wish I could take your pain or be there for you. I wish I could do anything. So many of us are shedding tears too. It hurts, but know that you are loved. I wish you didn’t have to be on the news tonight.

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