Rockstars

Kindergarten teachers have my heart. Imagine spending your entire day with twenty-something little bodies. Helping them learn how to get along, be part of a group, understand expectations. It is not for the faint of heart.

This school year brings additional challenges. The many levels of stress due to the pandemic affects both students and teachers. Not to mention the trauma many of our students have faced and continue to face.

All that said, these teachers are still smiling at the end of most days. And still finding ways to encourage others. I would say, kindergarten teachers, are rockstars! ❤

Today’s Lesson

Carefully folded
Pieces of paper
Some covered
With drawings
Of hearts
Music notes
Happy faces
Sad faces
Neatly stacked
On my desk-
Drawn by hands
So small, hands
Still learning
How to write
How to get along-
Simple messages
Meant to cheer
While saying
I’m sorry
Signatures
So sweet…
A humbling
Experience
For this grown-up
Teacher who has
Hard days right
Along with the kids
As we navigate this big old world-
Our lesson for today?
We can make
Tomorrow
A better day-
Big or small
Young or old

The Best Medicine

There are few sounds sweeter than pure, honest laughter. The kind that, once started, is hard to stop. I heard this precious echo twice in my classroom today and welcomed it with open arms.

The first experience was with fourth-grade boys. Our lesson today was about the Brass family of instruments. After a brief discussion of the word family and its relationship to musical instruments, we watched a short video showing the trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba.

Students saw both teens and professional musicians playing each of these instruments. Plus, some shenanigans about unwinding the tubing of the instruments. Here’s where the laughter started. In this video, the tuba was referred to as the “Big Daddy” of the Brass section.

At first, there were just a few giggles. The next thing I knew, one friend could not contain his laughter. It was that innocent kind of laughter, uncontrolled and contagious. We all had a good laugh.

The next incident was in second grade. We were singing a song about lunchboxes. There was a measure of rest where students were supposed to say what they hoped their mom would put in their lunch box.

I decided to go around the room and have them each name their item. There were apples, cookies, milk, grapes, bananas. And then someone smiled and said Chick-fil-A! I responded, “Oh my goodness! Now I am going to be thinking about Chick-fil-A all day! Thank you very much!”

I went on and on…and the laughter began. Guess what the next lunch box suggestion was? Starbucks! I’m thinking they had devised a plan. 😉

Reflecting on the day, I did not realize how desperately I needed to hear, feel, and experience laughter. I’m grateful for those sweet voices able to let it freely flow. It is the best medicine, after all.

Distance Learning Lesson No. 1

My school district is currently in distance learning. We have experienced it once before, but there is still much to learn. And I have a feeling the most important lessons will have little to do with academics. Oh, those will be woven in and out, but they will not be the lasting thread. No, the final fabric will be found in the simple attempts to cover the distance.

Distance…I do not like that word. It implies being away from family, friends, and now students. This is hard to explain to children, especially when we cannot see the ending.

I have been busy creating music activities to share. Students can access the lessons online. For the first one, I added a twenty-second voice recording-a short greeting with some basic instructions. Not a big deal…I thought.

These lessons also had a response page for students to share their favorite part of the story from this lesson. One precious kindergarten girl recorded her response. Her message was confusing at first.

“My favorite part was when she said I love you guys!” Hmmm, that was not part of this story. And then it hit me-she was talking about my twenty-second voice recording. At the end of the message, I said, “I miss and love you guys! Bye!”

Such a simple thing, I thought. Until this little voice spoke it back to me.

So, my first distance learning lesson? One phrase spoken from the heart covers more distance than any music lesson I could ever create.

For the First Time

We are in our fourth week of school-during a pandemic, attempting to social distance, everyone wearing masks, etc. School, unlike anything we have experienced before.

Today, during my fifth-grade class, I had this sudden urge to see their faces. At the end of music class, I reminded them about the importance of wearing masks. Then I told them I missed seeing their faces, and we would be taking a quick mask break.

I explained that we would take our masks off, then I would count down from five to zero, and we would put them back on.

Those five seconds felt like walking out into the sunshine. Smiles everywhere! Then I heard a student shout, “Mrs. Morris!” As if he had just recognized me!

As we put our masks back on, I started to tear up. “You look like you’re about to cry,” another student said. “I am,” I admitted. “And now my glasses are fogging up! How am I supposed to read you guys a book?”

We all laughed. I choked back my tears and made it through a few pages before it was time to go.

Wow! Four weeks in and today, it feels like we saw each other for the first time. I had forgotten the power of a smile. And multiplied by twenty, well, there is nothing quite like it.

This one, spur-of-the-minute decision changed the trajectory of my whole day. Yes, the masks were still there. But for a few seconds in each class, I saw sweet faces. And those sweet faces have no idea how much they helped this struggling teacher. ❤

A Hug I Could Not Refuse

Social distancing guidelines do not allow for hugs in most situations. And compared to my typical teacher hug routine, I would guess I’m about 90% successful at school. Although honestly, it feels more like missed opportunities than successes.

One day last week, there was an opportunity I’m glad I did not miss.

Music class is supposed to be fun and engaging. At least, that is my plan. And when I cannot seem to get a student interested, engaged, connecting-it is frustrating. Last week I had one of those kiddos.

In our first class together, there was constant disruption. This student showed no desire to participate. No matter what I tried, he was determined to get out of the room.

The next time I came to this class, something was different. I have no idea what had happened before my arrival, but my friend was sitting there ready for music.

Now, several reminders and redirections were needed, but there was also participation! And he made it through the entire lesson. Even though it was a small step, I counted it a success.

Later in the day, I walked past the same class heading out to recess. I caught the eye of my friend. “You did a great job in music today. I am really proud of you,” I said. He stepped out of line and sheepishly reached one arm out to give me a hug. His reach was hesitant, his eyes looking down.

Needless to say, social distancing guidelines flew right out the window.

This was a big step, and a hug I could not refuse. ❤

Grandma’s Back

Last school year, I had a sweet group of fourth-graders. They liked to call me “Grandma.” I did not mind it one bit. It was funny and endearing. And it allowed for connections that otherwise might not have happened. The Grandma Connection

Fast forward to this new school year. Those sweet friends are all scattered. Some opting for virtual. Others no longer in my music class. I imagine some have also moved. But there’s one I still get to see.

This particular friend, now a big fifth-grader, has been a little withdrawn these first two weeks of school. I haven’t had much luck getting him to participate in music. But sometimes it takes time to get back in the routine of school, so I hadn’t given it much thought.

Today forced the issue. When I entered the classroom, my friend was sitting at the back, head down, hood on. And when other classmates were getting out laptops for an activity, he didn’t budge. I tried getting him to go, but he was not moving.

Once the other students were logged in and exploring their music activities, I made my way to the back of the room.

Me: Remember what you called me last year?
Student: Shakes head no.
Me: Yes, you do. You called me Grandma.
Student: Shakes head.
Me: That means you can always talk to me. Ok?
Student: Shakes head again.
Me: (Patting his head) Love you, Bud.

I was sitting in my room eating lunch a few hours later when this friend showed up at the door. Carrying his lunch tray, hood off, smiling behind that face mask. He walked over and gave me a hug, assuring me that he was ok.

What a relief! Many moments tested my patience today. And some of my reactions could have been better. I am thankful that this one, at least, worked its way to a positive.

I guess this means Grandma’s back! 😉

Guidelines

Today was day 3 of our teacher back-to-school workweek. We are preparing to welcome students back in a few short days. We often joke about how teacher tired is real this first week back. Well, this school year teacher tired is multiplied by at least 1,000.

First, we have been physically absent from our buildings longer than usual. Second, it is hard to focus on what we do best-connect with students. We are spending a portion of our time strengthening our teaching skills. However, the impact of the COVID pandemic is also fighting for our attention-new procedures/changes in routine/guidelines.

Both areas of focus are necessary, but the combination is exhausting and overwhelming.

While being back with colleagues is encouraging, it is also challenging. I see the looks in teachers’ eyes. Excitement mixed with uncertainty. A hesitation that is difficult to label.

On Monday, I saw one of my favorite fourth-grade teachers entering the gym. I have not seen her since March. I know she has been busy advocating for students and families in our school community. I also know she must be exhausted.

My first instinct was to wrap her up in a big hug. One of those hugs that say, “I see you. It’s going to be ok.” However, I could not do that. I stopped myself.

The internal conflict was immediate and stifling. That is only one experience with one colleague on the very first day back. What will it feel like when it is hundreds of students? Students that are nervous, anxious, excited, scared… greeted only with a smile from my eyes and a kind word. Will that be enough?

I am not sure I will be able to follow those guidelines.

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

Question?

Question of the week-
Which is harder
Only seeing faces
On a screen
Or seeing faces
In-person, yet
From a distance?

The computer screen
Filled with little faces
Smiling, waving, singing
An adventure
Controlled chaos
No group hugs
Yet, welcome connection

The short visits
In-person, tho
Physically distant
No pats on the shoulder
Yet, beautiful smiles
Kindly delivering
Much-needed messages

Both experiences
Bring a rush
Of emotions
Tears, happy and sad
Despite attempts to
Swallow the lumps
In my throat

Maybe it’s not
A question of difficulty
Instead, a reminder
Both complex
And beautiful
Of how desperately
We need each other
Up On the Roof by Carole King/Gerry Goffin
"And if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two…"

Ripple Effect

Our district, Union Public Schools in Tulsa, OK, currently has four sites working daily to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for children in our community. In one week, over 70,000 meals were distributed. Today marks the end of week four.

It takes a massive amount of work for this to happen. There are so many people behind the scenes planning, organizing, preparing for this need. And many other volunteers step in to help with distribution.

Whether they realize it or not, those working in the background are creating ripples. Not just a pebble tossed into a pond, more like a boulder lobbed from the shore. All of them working together to create a lasting, powerful ripple effect.

Just imagine. A family drives through the line. They receive enough food to feed their children for that day. And they can do the same thing the next day. Actually, every day, Monday through Friday.

The parents and children realize how much their school community cares for them. They share their experience with friends and extended family. A tiny glimmer of hope in an unsettling time.

No, this is not the answer to all of the problems families are currently facing. Many are dealing with job loss, not to mention isolation. But not having enough food? I cannot imagine the fear that brings.

I hope it is these kinds of things we will remember when this time has passed. People recognizing a need and doing whatever it takes to fill that need. People working tirelessly with no thought of their own recognition.

I hope these difficult times remind us to stop and look around. To see acts of kindness. And to recognize each as a ripple with the ability to become a wave.

A wave of compassion that has the power to wash over us all.

A ripple effect with endless possibilities for positively impacting the future.