Community

One day this week, our elementary school glee club took a little field trip. We traveled by bus, only about a mile, to a local supermercado. It may have been a short ride, but it left a lasting impression.

One of our school’s community partners sent a request several weeks ago. Did we have a small group of students who could sing at an awards ceremony? A businessman in the community was to receive special recognition from the Mexican Consulate. That is all the information we received. 

We gladly agreed to participate. The performance would be short and sweet, only two songs. The location was close to school, so it would not disrupt our whole day.

The students were very excited! There were lots of giggles and squeals as we boarded the bus, wearing our new glee club t-shirts. Upon arrival, our community school’s coordinator went in ahead of us to get details. 

While we waited, some of the students noticed a car from a local tv news station in the parking lot. Now there were nervous squeals. “Are we going to be on the news?” 

We soon learned the significance of this celebration. As we entered the supermercado, we were met by people dressed in formal attire. Tables with black tablecloths indicated a fancy reception. Long tables were filled with appetizers and desserts. Servers were dressed in chef’s attire, ready to serve.

Family members and distinguished guests had come to honor one particular businessman for his steadfast work to better his community. And our small group of students got to be part of the celebration. 

Students’ nerves soon settled, and they took their place in front of the crowd. Their performance was energetic and exciting! Through contagious smiles, they sang “La Bamba” and “Oye.”   

Once the music stopped, the air quickly filled with applause, bravos, and the snapping of photographs. Students were then invited to partake of the wonderful food. As a teacher, I was both pleasantly surprised and a little nervous.  😉

There was no reason to worry. Students followed instructions, politely chose their food, and listened to the presentation while they ate. I was even able to sneak a little taste. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a specific group of students.

This whole experience left me thinking about the word community. I suppose I belong to many different communities. Whether through family, home, work, church, each is important. And my responsibility in each varies.

This week, I was privileged to celebrate the community where I work. Our students had the opportunity to show pride in the community where they live. And all it took was a short bus ride, two songs, and lots of smiles.

I hope students walked away with a lasting memory. One which will encourage them to be leaders in their communities, both now and in the future. I know I did.  ❤

Stress Secrets

Today, I physically felt my stress level rising. Our family has a lot happening right now. Not horrible things, just changes. Even so, a feeling of weight began to creep upwards through my chest. I had to remind myself to breathe.

What caused such a reaction? A combination of events. Tomorrow, I begin teaching at a new school. My daughter also begins her first teaching job. We are moving to a new house on Saturday. And my youngest son is starting college classes next week.

Each of the things listed is exciting! My new school is awesome! Our new house is beautiful, and the details will all work out. I’m proud of my daughter, just having a little trouble with the “mama bear” complex. And my son? I am still learning how to let go.

For a few moments today, I was unable to separate these events. It was as if they were all morphing into one big problem, a problem I could not solve. I took a few deep breaths. My head began to clear, and one beautiful thought entered my mind.

Tomorrow, I have the privilege of welcoming groups of new students to their music room. We will make connections, discuss expectations, and establish routines. We will play games, listen to music, and read stories. I will be exactly where I am supposed to be. ❤

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufman

Those other things will continue to be out of my control, and that is ok. If the stress begins to rise, I will remind myself to breathe. And if I’m still struggling at the end of the day, an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is sure to help.

I guess my secret is out. 😉

Neighborhood Walk

It’s that time of the summer. Back-to-school ads are everywhere. School staff members are working hard to make sure everything is ready when the students arrive. It is a team effort.

I spent most of last week preparing my classroom. But on Thursday evening, I experienced a different type of back-to-school preparation. I went on a neighborhood walk.

What an amazing experience! Around sixty school staff members gathered in the cafeteria for snacks and instructions. Our goal? To visit the families of our nine-hundred plus students.

Each team received a list of names with addresses and a map. We drove together to our assigned neighborhood or apartment complex.

Walking door-to-door, we greeted each student at their home. We introduced ourselves and gave each child a backpack. Parents shook our hands, grateful for the information shared. Kids’ smiled, telling us their grade level.

During our walk, one family stuck with me. As soon as we introduced ourselves, the mom began speaking in Spanish. Two precious little girls stood close by her side. Although I could not understand what she was saying, I sensed she was happy.

Thankfully, our assistant principal translated. He told us the mom had shared that her daughter was excited about school. She knew teachers were coming to visit that day, and had been awake since 5 A.M. waiting! The walk did not start until 5:30 P.M. She had been waiting for us all day long! ❤

A little later, we walked back by their apartment. I noticed the little girl standing on the landing with her younger sister. They were playfully hiding behind a post. When she saw us, she looked out from behind the post, smiled, and waved.

The smile on that little girl’s face was the real reason for our walk. Yes, we handed out important information. Yes, we provided a few school supplies. And yes, we were hot and sweaty. 😉 But more importantly, we made connections. We made connections with colleagues, parents, and students.

The first day of school can be stressful. But just maybe, the connections made during that back-to-school neighborhood walk will help ease the stress for our students. I know it helped ease mine. 🙂

School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

One Day Difference

This time of year is crazy! If you don’t believe me, ask a teacher. The number of school days remaining has hit single digits. Spring fever is in the air. Closing out the current year while planning for the next brings added stress. Many days leave me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

The May calendar is filled with activities. Field day, talent show, picnics, yearbook signing to name a few. Although fun, they require planning and interrupt routines.

This week has been particularly hard. After school Wednesday, all I wanted to do was take a nap. But I was unable to relax or quiet my thoughts. Instead of resting, I cried. A restless night lead to a grumpy Mrs. Morris Thursday morning.

Thursday’s plan included talent show practice. Students came to the gym during specials to rehearse on the stage. But rehearsals did not take up the entire class. What to do with the remaining time? Song requests!

I like to plan a day where students request their favorite songs. Despite good intentions, this is one end-of-the-year activity that often gets passed over. Not this year.

This was the perfect day! Imagine Dragons and Panic at the Disco topped the list. Songs from Annie and The Greatest Showman also made the cut. Pop, country, rock-a little bit of everything.

Two particular selections turned my day around. The first came during fourth grade. I already had a list of songs from this group and the requests were anonymous. Half-way down the list was Baby Shark. I have done my best to avoid this song. Not today.

It was so much fun! Fourth graders simply being kids. Singing, laughing, doing silly motions. And when I asked who requested the song, an ornery boy raised his hand. I laughed and thanked him for his choice.

The second selection came in kindergarten. After singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and Baby Bumblebee, one sweet little boy raised his hand. What was his request? Jingle Bells! There is something special about a gym full of kindergarteners singing Jingle Bells in May, with only nine days of school left.

I need to remember to slow down, forget about the to-do list, and have fun with my students. These final days of school will be over in a snap.

After school Thursday, I drove home, had a snack, and slept soundly on the couch for about an hour. Yes, I’m still tired. Yes, there is still work to be done. But a little fun with kids singing Baby Shark and Jingle Bells just might get me through. One day really can make a difference!

Of course, today is Friday. It was field day…and that’s another story. 😉 Eight days to go…

Forgiveness~Empathy~Friendship

Experiencing forgiveness, whether on the granting or receiving end, is powerful. Crucial life lessons are learned on both sides of a transgression. The one being forgiven feels a great relief and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The one offering forgiveness appreciates, even more, the instances when they have been on the receiving end. Sounds simple, yet not always the case.

Children often unintentionally demonstrate these truths clearly, if we take the time to watch and listen. Picture one of my kindergarten classes sitting around our music circle, coloring pictures of pumpkins and leaves.  Their fall themed artwork was also to include rhythmic patterns based on phrases about their subject.  For example, “leaves are falling” or “pumpkins everywhere” or “jump in a leaf pile.” Vivaldi’s “Autumn” playing quietly in the background.

Yes, I know it sounds very picturesque, but don’t be fooled.  This is one of those class times that is a struggle for me-giving up a certain level of control and giving students the chance to be social and creative.  It lends itself to a higher noise level and a tiny bit of controlled chaos.  Results are usually pretty cool!  That is until there is a transgression… one student marking on the beautiful, in progress, artwork of his friend.

Typically, it is the student who has been wronged that seeks my attention.  “She stuck her tongue out at me!” “He pulled my hair!” “She told me to shut up!” You get the idea.  On this particular day, the opposite was true. The artist didn’t make a big fuss although disappointed.  I told him he could start a new work if he’d like and asked the other student to apologize. Everyone back to work, all is well. Right?

A few moments later the student who committed the “coloring on my friend’s paper” infraction was standing in front of me with tears in his eyes. “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I apologized, but he wouldn’t accept my apology.” Hmmm…what to do? So many ways I could respond to this conflict. I’m not sure if my choice was the best, but it did have an interesting result.

Empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I began to talk to the teary-eyed transgressor about why his friend was upset. As with my own children, I attempted to help my student put himself in his friend’s place. “How would you feel if you were working hard on your artwork and someone marked on your paper?” On the surface a simple question, but not always an easy place to find yourself. His tears indicated his comprehension, and in a “kindergarten kind of way,” he began to understand.

For the remainder of the class, this particular friend stuck with me like glue. Tears turned to smiles, offers to help with clean up, wanting to have more conversations. Why? Just as being forgiven evokes feelings of relief and freedom, an apology not being accepted brings the opposite-guilt and sadness. However, when we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones we have hurt, then we begin to develop empathy. Our focus moves from being self-centered to others-centered.

Which is more powerful? The ability to forgive or the ability to empathize? I suppose it depends on the situation, transgression, and the people involved. Obviously, consequences come into play, long and short term. But what if we see them as tied together, working hand in hand? I believe if we can help children learn to empathize, having a spirit of forgiveness will naturally follow. And just maybe they will begin to stop and think before making a choice which negatively affects their friend.

But wait, maybe the foundation for this whole discussion should instead be the word “friend.” Becoming a friend is a process. An acquaintance becomes a companion, the companion becomes a supporter, and so on. And if I truly support someone, I’m much more likely to think about the impact of my actions.

Once we learn what it means to be a friend, the potential for both empathy and forgiveness grows exponentially. It still requires effort and work. It does not just magically happen without being intentional. Like everything else worth doing in life, it takes practice. But the results are oh so worth the work!

Here’s to forgiveness, empathy, and friendship.  Especially when witnessed through the eyes of kindergarteners.  May I pay careful attention to opportunities this next week for expressing and teaching these vital life lessons during music class, especially the importance of being a good friend.

You’ve Got a Friend

Time Machine

During recent Red Ribbon Week activities, our school had a “dress in your favorite decade” day.  I chose the 80’s-big hair, hot pink tank layered over black dress, leggings & leg warmers.  “Girls just wanna have fun” was uttered by colleagues several times throughout the day.  Staying in line with my decade choice, I decided we would spend some time in the 80’s during music class.

One class entered my room particularly quiet, much more so than usual.  Thinking they might be a tough audience, I decided to shake things up a bit.  “You guys don’t know this, but the music room is actually a time machine.  And today, we are taking a trip back to the 1980’s!” Of course, there were a few eye rolls but mostly giggles.  We had so much fun!

Our playlist for the day:

  • Richard Simmons exercise video-I Just Wanna Dance with Somebody
  • Jump by Van Halen
  • Take on Me by A-Ha
  • Always Something There to Remind Me by Naked Eyes
  • We Will Rock You by Queen (actually 1977 but it worked with the boomwhackers)

This activity started me thinking.  Music really is like a time machine.  In one instance we listen to a composition from hundreds of years ago, imagining what life was like when it was written.  The next minute we hear a song on the radio and are immediately transported back to a special event, a certain person, or a memorable place from our own past. Both examples are powerful.

It certainly was the case for me all throughout this 80’s music day.  I smiled as I thought about the fun times spent with my best friend Kim watching music videos on MTV.  Remembered my short-lived dream of becoming a rock star when performing in my high school talent show.  Laughed about the many times my husband has played the keyboard opening to “Jump.” (He is a tuba player, not a pianist-so this was his piano claim to fame!)

As my once quiet class was winding down and my trip down memory lane ending one young friend piped up, “Mrs. Morris, can we please transport back to the 2000’s now?” I laughed, “Why yes, yes we can.”  Our time machine travel was over.  At least until the radio began to play in my car, after school, on my way home…