Challenging Times

Planning like
Never before
Worried about safety
Worried about health
For our students
And ourselves
So much at stake
Far beyond academics
Far beyond testing
The emotional health
Of our children
Of our families
Of all of us
So many needs
To be met
Too many needs
To be met
By only a few
But we are not a few
We are many
We are educators
Waiting patiently
For difficult answers
To impossible questions
And no matter what
Others may say
We will shine-Our
Students will shine
With kindness, passion
And innovation as we
Face our fears during
These challenging times

This Road

The road
Once clear
Now obstructed
By unexpected
Roadblocks
Detours
Up ahead
Which way to go?

A new road
Comes into view
Along with
A new role
Not the one
Expected
Or desired-yet,
Gracefully accepted

Potholes trigger
Full stops…
But, gentle truths
Faithfully
Push forward
Erasing any
Thought of
Turning back

Moving ahead
A quiet whisper
Provides assurance-
Trust and follow
Nothing can take you
Out of my hand
Don’t turn back
This road is best

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” Isaiah 49:16

Take me Home, Country Roads by John Denver

Notes on a Page

Revisiting a page
Filled with notes
First learned
Many years ago
A glance brings
Faded memories
Of piano keys
Under my fingers
Muscle memory begins
To clear away
Cobwebs collected
In silence
Words and symbols
Carefully written
On the page
Bring a smile
Valuable reminders
Purposefully placed by
The trusted hand
Of a teacher-
Oh, if only
Squinting eyes
Revealed someone
Sitting nearby-
A guide
Patiently leading
Beyond space
And time
Beyond notes
And rhythms
Shedding light
On the mysterious
Sound of
Rich harmonies
Surrounding
Hidden melodies
Listening intently as
Eyes and hands
Once again read
Notes on a page

~In memory of Dr. William Trantham~

Zoom!

Raise your hand if you’ve been in a Zoom meeting this week! If I had to guess, probably more than one. Teachers in our district are zooming in, making plans for distance learning. I’ve been part of several over the last few days.

It is nice to see familiar faces and catch up. It is also a great space for brainstorming and sharing ideas. It can also be a little overwhelming.

One thing keeps making me laugh. Every time I see or hear the word Zoom or get an invite to a Zoom, I have flashbacks to my childhood. Anyone else?

The show Zoom dates back to the 1970s. It has nothing to do with online video conferencing. Or does it?

I loved watching this show as a kid. I remember it being informational yet entertaining. It was kids talking to kids.

Today I decided to look it up and see what information I could find. Here are some of the lyrics to the original opening song:

       Come on and zoom, zoom, zoom-a-zoom
       You’ve gotta zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom
       Come on give it a try
       We’re gonna show you why
       We’re gonna teach you to fly high
       Come on and Zoom!
       Come on and Zoom Zoom!

Watch the opening scene. There is music, dancing, introductions. And at one point, a screen full of faces. A diverse group of kids, working together to teach as many kids as they can reach, about all kinds of things. Sounds a little familiar.

Think about it. This idea of distance learning is new for most of us. We have different levels of comfort concerning technology. Yet, we all have knowledge worth sharing.

So, here we are, coming together, Zooming through this process together. Learning from each other as we go.

I’m pretty sure these kids set a good example for us to follow. https://youtu.be/F7gzHLKT5g4

Singing Along

I introduced a new song to my classes this week, “You-Nique.” It is part of a music curriculum entitled “Quaver.” Music teachers in our district are participating in a pilot of this material for the remainder of the school year.

My impression so far? It is a game-changer. The material is innovative, relevant, and engaging. It grabs the attention of students and does not let go.

The song I mentioned is only a tiny part of the material I utilized this week. But what a powerful piece. On the chorus, the main character sings:

“I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m loved, I’m smart, and I’m unique.”

Each time I pressed play, the room fell silent. All eyes watched the video and listened to the music. There were smiles and lots of head bobs. Many students were soon singing along.

Each time the song ended, without fail, someone would blurt out, “Can we hear it again?!” “Of course! But let’s talk about it first.”

Not only was the song catchy, but it also allowed for a great discussion. I asked students what they thought the word “unique” meant. Their answers ranged from beautiful and special to different.

I asked students if they ever had days where they did not feel strong or brave or loved. Some nodded their heads; others raised their hands. So honest.

I wanted them to know they were not alone. I told them there were times in my life when I didn’t feel strong or smart or loved. My intent was to acknowledge their feelings while also encouraging them.

Wouldn’t you know they ended up encouraging me? One sweet little boy spoke up, “Well, Mrs. Morris, we all love you!” “Oh sweetie, I love you guys, too.”

The song ends with the line, “And there’s no one else in the whole wide world, exactly like me.” I think we have a new favorite song. I have a feeling it will be requested often. And I look forward to singing right along with them.

Full Circle

I’m not sure the exact time, place, or person that sparked Rachel’s passion for individuals with special needs. Perhaps it was noticing kids at school. Or maybe getting to know her friend, Chandler. More importantly, that spark continued to grow.

During junior-high, Rachel served as a peer tutor in special education classes. It was also at this time, she and I worked to develop a “Parent’s Night Out” ministry at our church for families of children with special needs. She also began volunteering in weekly Sunday classes and summer camps for individuals with special needs.

Rachel chose service-learning as one of her high school classes. This program allows students to spend time working in an area they are interested in for their career. She spent time each day working in the special education classrooms.

Even during these early experiences, I was amazed at Rachel’s ability to truly be a friend to all who crossed her path. No matter their ability to communicate, she spoke to them as she would to anyone else. She even reminded me on a few occasions that certain individuals were not little kids and should not be spoken to in that manner. 😉

When it came time for college, there was no doubt about her course of study. She would get a degree in special education. She even talked about how her dream job would be to come back to her own school and teach. Teach in those classes where she spent so many hours as a student mentor.

Her college years flew by. And now she is in her first year of teaching. And where is she working? The high school where she graduated. Those same rooms she spent hours in as a student.

Her very own classroom. ❤

Last week I was finally able to see her in action. She is right where she planned to be. Right where she is supposed to be. Teaching young adults who are often overlooked and ignored. Treating them with respect and dignity. Pouring into their lives daily.

Watching my daughter as the teacher? There are not enough words. It is like a beautiful full circle. No beginning or ending. No limits on where she can go or what she will do.

Dynamic Duo

I teach music in a large elementary school, over one thousand students. It is almost like two schools in one. Half of the students come to my class for music. The other half to my teaching partner. For grade-level performances, however, we come together as one big group. At least, that is our plan.

Our first performance is rapidly approaching. Fourth-grade students are busy learning songs and speaking parts for two Veterans Day assemblies. At least, they are supposed to be.

Preparing a large group for a performance is a daunting task. This year, in particular, I have been struggling. New students and unfamiliar music proved too much for me to handle.

Pridefully, I did not want to admit my struggles. But I finally had no choice. Of course, my friend was understanding and gracious, agreeing to a last-minute change.

We agreed on a well-known replacement song and decided to team-teach our classes for the next rotation. My stress level immediately dropped.

Even though we teach the same material, we have different styles. His students are familiar with his, mine with mine. What happened when we combined the two? Well, let’s just say we were a dynamic duo!

Students were initially confused. But once we got started, the results were amazing! Kids were engaged, they listened, and sang. The two of us naturally bantered back and forth. It was so much fun!

There is still much work to be done. Time is short. Will the program be perfect? No, but perfection is not our goal. Our goal is for students to give their best. And in doing so, to experience the power of sharing their music.

Hopefully, under the direction of our dynamic duo, students will continue to work hard. I know we will continue to have fun pushing them to be their best. And I will continue to be thankful for an energetic and understanding colleague. 🙂

Future Teachers and Frogs

Driving to school this morning, I was feeling a bit tired. Honestly, I was having one of those “not sure how much longer I can do this” attitudes. I love music and teaching, but it is exhausting. The amount of energy required is for the young.

Thankfully, two things helped my attitude change. The first was a college student coming to observe my classes as part of her teaching practicum. This young, smiling face greeted me at my classroom door.

It was the perfect way to begin the day-discussing teaching with a future teacher. She asked thoughtful questions. Questions which made me think about what I do and how I teach. She took notes, smiled, and participated right along with students. 2nd graders even rushed over for a group hug when it was time for her to leave.

Our conversation time was brief. She was only in my classroom for two and a half of my morning classes. But what a breath of fresh air.

The second game-changer was a little green frog. K, 1st, and 2nd graders met Freddie the Frog today. I was a bit nervous. Last year, this little green friend breathed new life into my teaching. But what if it didn’t work this time? What if the kids didn’t buy it?

The simple truth is, kids are kids. They loved Freddie! I smiled as they watched him while they sang, eyes wide and curious. And once again, I felt that surge of energy.

Students were anxious to give Freddie a high-five and a hug goodbye when class was over. They whispered in his ear, and he even got a few kisses on the top of his head. Precious.

Will tomorrow have its challenges? Yes. Such is teaching. Such is life. But I will approach tomorrow with the memory of today. Remembering the much-needed spark which came from a future teacher and a little green frog. ❤ 🐸

Connections Revisited

Back-to-school ads are everywhere. Supplies are stocked at all the local stores. As a teacher, I cannot ignore the fact that school will start soon. This realization leads to a renewed focus on connections.

Why have I not read this before?

I was recently speaking with some young educators preparing for upcoming New Teacher Induction. Such a stressful time with so much information. My advice to them? Focus on making connections!

The first year of teaching truly is the hardest. There are so many unknowns. Setting up a classroom, school expectations, new curriculum, etc. But one friendly, helpful colleague makes all those unknowns less scary.

Positive relationships with other teachers lead to positive relationships with students. Making time is key. Students come to school with personal stories. Stories they are eager to share. And they want to know about their teacher as well. Sharing these stories lays the foundation for learning.

Since I am transferring to a new school this year, there will be many new stories to hear. I am thankful for some familiar faces sprinkled throughout the building. Previously established connections which offer encouragement. But my students? A sea of unfamiliar faces and new names.

Some days the task feels overwhelming. Then there are days like yesterday. A much-needed visit with an encouraging mom and her two sweet kids, now former students. Laughing and talking, saying “Thank you” and “I will miss you.” I left with renewed confidence for the coming year and a reminder of the power which comes from making connections.

Bright spots. 🙂

That first day will be here soon. I will stand at my door and greet those new faces with a smile. The music playing in the background will be the next step in creating new connections. Connections which will grow and be revisited right when they are needed.

The Right Question

A recent story on the local morning news involved someone being shot at an apartment complex. There were not many details. One adult shot another adult. While listening to the report I kept thinking, “I wonder if there were any children present?”

Had I heard the same story any morning previous, my reaction might have been different. That is what happens when we view our surroundings through a different lens. Gain a new perspective.

Why did this story have this effect on me on this particular day? Because the day before I attended a professional development workshop for educators entitled “The Trauma-Informed Classroom.” Dr. Barbara Sorrels, author of the book “Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma,” was our presenter.

One of the most powerful moments of the day was listening to an actual 911 recording. The voice we heard was a six-year-old little girl named Lisa. Lisa was witnessing a violent attack on her mom and siblings by her stepfather. And it was not the first.

It is difficult for me to imagine the awful things this little girl witnessed. The fear in her voice was almost palpable. Her cries for help were interchanged with moments of extreme clarity. She provided crucial information and displayed incredible bravery.

The screams of this little girl caused a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Once the recording ended, the room remained silent. Dr. Sorrels then asked us to discuss how memories from this event might affect Lisa in the future. What images, smells, sounds, etc. might trigger negative responses from her?

All I could think was, “How can a child be expected to function at school after such a traumatic event?”

The workshop continued with stories of other trauma children, their caregivers, and teachers. We also explored ways to help promote healing.

By the end of the day, I felt emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed. How could I use this information to positively influence my classroom? How could it help me better connect with my students?

Dr. Sorrels encouraged us to start with one objective, helping one child at a time. And then another idea and another child, and so on. I reviewed my notes, and one thing stood out-a comparison of two questions. The questions represent two ways I might respond to a child’s behavior.

What is wrong with you?

What happened to you?

These questions have definitely been asked inside my teacher brain. And more often than not, I asked the first question. I should be asking the second.

So where do I begin?

  • Be mindful that a frustrating “behavior” might actually be a reaction to trauma.
  • Realize my perspective in approaching a child has the power to foster healing.
  • Be willing to ask the right question.