They dream, she writes. 


Teenagers sat in stoic rows with willing adherence to classroom norms.  Faces held the weathering of late nights, deep stories, eager learning, and self-becoming.  I sprung from my swiveling chair after punching in attendance across the flickering monitor. 

“Good morning, Creatives!” 

The voice of experience enough to know wherever my energy lands, the students rise to it and maintain inquiry if I stay curious of them.  So I charged the day with enthusiasm and sincere belief in each of them.  My smile beamed and my silly red cowboy boots clicked more loudly than expected. I was weary from physical illness, but the students would not know so until the conditions were right to speak of me.  This was their stage: a place to speak their lives and words, to own their stories and to communicate with new focus.  

Creative Writing class, much like classes early in my decade+ long teaching tenure, became a place of expression, safety, and exploration for students.  

 
Great are the dreams of those already tried in life by hurdles, but continually invited to make their future good.  For all the teens I have watched become positive community members, active pursuants of their convictions, and  adults I am proud to know, I add this gal to the list of the thousands of teens who inspire me. Well-done, Molly Fennig! (Click name to link to her book.)  You embody the aspirations of students I have seen in the Mounds View Public School system.

 
For the numerous authors and aspiring writers I have worked with over the last few years, for the many manuscripts I have read and contributed feedback on, this writer (Molly Fenning)  joins Ty Jansma, in being one of my students who have published their own work. I have enjoyed both of their books and hope they keep writing! 

They dream.

They do.

They inspire. 

Like them, dear former students everywhere, from private schools in Michigan, to the collegiate level, to community forums, and now the Mustangs and Knights–keep finding ways to bring your goodness, dreams, and hard work to the world. 

It matters! 

Left out.

Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the book entitled Half the Sky. This married couple (both reporters) has become a voice for women and girls worldwide.  They reveal often unexplored truths about oppression. The writers question their own field for holding a wide margin between reporting breaking news versus ongoing realities which remain unreported, yet are newsworthy. They set out to be different when they learned many stories left out of mass media.  
Who is left out?  Their book trends to oppressed females in circumstances that will break hearts and turn stomachs.  


However, since reading the book, I ask myself this question nearly everyday.  

Who is left out? 

Left out of our big dreams and success accolades.  

Left out of our quest to be better and creation of opportunities.  

Left out of our communities and our resources. 

Whatever you passion, your bent, your thing–this week work with me to lessen the severity of consequences for those who are left out.  

Give what you can, not directed by other for competition. Give money when both wise and personally prompted. Give hands when asked and able.  Give time, one of your greatest commodities. Give diligence in all endeavors. Give professional knowledge and personal care in daily dose. 

Give love always.  

I can not change a whole field like education, but I can create a radar for the left out and actively work with those around me to reconnect people to hope and tools. Join me, in the fields and places you are; be different, be mitigators.

Even when a social problem is so vast as to be insoluble in its entirety, it’s still worth mitigating.

Nicholas Kristof

 

We need others, students and adults alike. 

I thought I didn’t need anyone.  A child with my own pains and own learning fumbles, I pushed aside family and teachers that proffered to help.  The help seemed like a facade of good intentions and I felt unworthy of the true care any outlier might have had.  Yet the persistent presence of education in my life, a privilege not lost on me ever, but especially now having seen more of the world–it’s presence embedded understanding  within me.
Understanding is a loaded word, much like pain.  Yet education done correctly is all about unshelfing assumptions, erroneous perceptions, and ignorance. Education is a noun, a verb, and an adjective all spun together to create a thing, a place, an action, and a description of growth.  I grew to understand that faring it alone would leave me less knowledgeable and less equippedthan my counterparts who linked arms as little girls to skip across the playground, buddied up to create an explorer research project in the 4th grade, or crowded together in celebration of one who was accepted to her desired college years later.

Hindsight reveals that the times others’ emotional, academic,  life support, and encouragement was present in my life, I became more–more involved in school, more able to aspire to success, more willing to dream. Trauma had short circuited my brain to believe that all of life was fight, flight, or freeze. I have spent decades dismissing learnings and opportunities not out of want, but out of a wiring in my mind that fixated on not taking risks and defending baseline.  

Indebted to educators and youth workers who modeled that I did not have to diminuitively accept the short road, the path of least resistance, the less than my potential goals, I have started to train my brain to fire in the direction of belief. I have learned how to get unstuck. With this comes the realization that we must shoulder to shoulder our efforts to make the world a better place.  Not just utopianly on a large scale, but intimately for our own lives and momentously for our direct communities.

In understanding how people function, how systems work, how messy stories still have positive outcomes, we all grow to hope more is possible.  The dismal state of dysfunctional and injustice can always find a counterpart and these antithesis communities and peoples are ones who have not gone it alone. Counterparts who break cycles of poverty, recover from addictions, end generations of abuse, rise to stand amid the plague of mental illnesses, and those who beautifully proffer life in the face of their own ongoing grief, these are the men and women our students and children must see and have access to.  Business leaders, gym enthusiasts, Navy men and women, die-casters, musicians, hair stylists, gamers, politicians…there is no end to a list a people who learn understanding from others.

Nearly a decade ago, psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues put forth convincing research of how people, specifically students, who operate under the premise that growth and effort, flexibility and new learning can develop a mindset fortified enough to dislodge fixed ways of thinking and living.  Her work has become foundational to a number of education reforms, both overtly in professional development and low-lying in those who practice a growth mindset and then contagiously affect others.

Dweck revisited her work in Education Week last year. Her update and clarification brings further insight to the statement of how we need others. Dweck asserts that we can’t just try for better, we must be presented with new ways of trying and receive feedback/support of others to reach optimal growth.

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches-not just sheer effort-to learn and improve. 

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset’. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr

We need others. We need people for when we get stuck, for when we are discouraged, for when our dreams need the network and support of those further down the long road. We are not entitled to the help of others, but we are worthy of it. Growth hinges on new understandings, so let us surround ourselves with those who for a “we understand” instead of seclusion or self. 

Let us teach who Orville was to Wilbur Wright, let us share stories of the Missionaries of Charity who surrounded Mother Teresa, let us uncover who encouraged Cesar Chavez to believe, and let us tell the stories of Peter Norman standing beside Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos in the fight for human rights. Let us be the ones to tip our heads and hearts to those who are different in our lives. Now is the time humbly remind ourselves we did not get this far on our own and celebrate those who helped us understand, grow, and become.

Our students and children need us, not just as cheerleaders, but they need role-models, activators, door-openers, challengers, and genuine assistance to their next step of learning and growth.

They need others…and truth be clear, so do we.

Becoming the educator I was meant to be

The story is simple.  Teachers changed my life.  

Classes gave lessons. The schools gave community. The expectations gave me new goals.  And the diplomas along the way allowed for new opportunities.  

But the teachers? The teachers offered a day in and day out commitment to making life better, wider, more inclusive, more respectful, more understanding, and more justice-minded than my own ability ever could.  

Teachers were shepherds, politicians, mentors, experts, counselors, advocates, role-models, and story-tellers all wrapped up in one person at the front of the class.  Truth be told, they were often at the side of the class, behind the class, and walking amongst the class as well.  Regardless of where they stood, talked, listened–they dreamed big dreams for all of us.  

So I became one.  

And I loved it.  Every year. Every school.  Every student.  Every possibility. 

Despite my affinity to education, I have exited the classroom teacher role before now. Once I left my dream job to stay with my children.  Once I left the college podium to follow the man who guides and leads our family as he pursued new work in another state. Both exits gave seasons of my life to live and love alongside new people.  First my children, and then more recently, a sector of the writing industry.  Re-entering the classroom in my children’s district in 2014 proved to be a homecoming of sorts.  I once again stood in a place that, in essence, had changed my life. 

Fall 2016 begins a new chapter of the educator I was meant to be.  I step out of lesson plans and grading, ushered there by circumstances that refined and humbled me.  I feel a loss.  I will lose what daily teacher-student interactions and learnings can do and become.  

However, I step into a role that will allow me to advocate for under-served populations, support the Deans, partner with teachers and families, and connect with students as they wrestle with inequity, diversity, aspirations, opportunities, and achievement.  

This is exciting.  My one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver) gets to rise again (Maya Angelou) and be not only a teacher, but an awakener (Robert Frost). 

As an woman, a mother, a minority, an adoptee, a dreamer, a writer, a speaker, and a social justice hopeful, I may now just be becoming the educator I was meant to be.  If I have learned anything over the last few years, that although certain areas of my life feel cemented into a losing streak, being able to call myself an educator fuels me. I will bring goodness to the world the way I can. 

The story is simple. I want to change lives. #EducationMatters

10 things you should know about your teacher (or your kid’s teacher)

 

School is in session.  Best wishes to all of you intertwined with the education system, whether student, parent, teacher, or staff!   Here’s a quick list of 10 things you should know if your teacher is anything like me or the people I have taught with.

photo by karla kantola

1. They think you rock! They have been excited to meet you!

2. They may actually enjoy going on tangents as much as you do.  School is very much academics, but it is also full of life lessons and relationships.

3. They partner with your parent(s) and guardian(s), so they will share how wonderfully you shine and may have to share when you miss the mark.

4. They want you to have your own pencil.  Everyday.

5. They think learning and sharing is fun, so don’t ask if the class will have any fun today, the answer will always be YES!

6. They are just human, they make mistakes just like you do.

7. They do want to hear about your weekend, your dog, your fears, and what makes you happy, so just pay attention to when it is okay to share those things.  They also want to know if you ever feel bullied, lonely, or lost because although they think all their students are cool, they will take extra time to encourage you if they know you are hurting!

8. They call you Mr. Matthews not because they forgot your first name was Jordan, but because it is how they chose to show you respect.  They may have other ways of showing you respect too, see if you can figure it out.

9. They consider your smile, your questions, and your willingness to help your classmates as some of the best parts of their day.  Keep it up!

10. They think you ROCK!  They look forward to seeing you in class!