Recently I stopped by a classroom of a former colleague that I hadn’t seen in awhile. We chatted about our new positions and our passion for education. Then as our conversation came to a close he said something that made me pause, “Tisha, you’ve changed. You’re not the same timid, nice person that you used to be.” I wasn’t sure how to take his comment at first. However, I knew what he meant. I felt it too. I wasn’t the same. Hopefully I am still "nice", but I definitely am no longer the timid Tisha that was once fearful of sharing my voice. I am more courageous, passionate, and confident. I have become an empowered educator. Still, something about what he said continued to perplex me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. Throughout the week the words of my colleague continued to swirl around in my head. Then one night as I was watching The Voice finale, a line from one of my favorite songs from The Greatest Showman, This is Me, made my swirling thoughts fly into formation.
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
-excerpt from lyrics, This is Me
Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek
This Is Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
As I let the lyrics resonate, I realized what had me perplexed. Was it really that I had changed or had I become more of who I was meant to be, more fully me?
Courage. Passion. Confidence.
Those three words are powerful, but when combined become explosive dynamite that empowers. When I reflect on the song lyrics I think about my journey. With each leap I’ve taken to create a better learning experience for my students, I’ve become more courageous. Every magical moment in my classroom has ignited my passion. Each person who has believed in me has given me confidence. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am not bruised. It’s been challenging and I’ve fallen at times. In fact, I’ve fallen more times than I can count and have bruises to prove it. Though, each bruise is proof of my relentless pursuit to infuse joy and passion into teaching and learning and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom. It no longer matters to me if people approve, or think I’m crazy. I believe with every ounce of my being that magic happens when joy enters a classroom. I have seen firsthand what happens when students become immersed and empowered learners. I am not perfect. My classroom is not always magical. I don’t have all the answers. But, I have experienced what magic feels like, and I want to share it. No, actually I don’t want to share it... I have to share it.
Too many students leave school each day without experiencing the magic of learning. Too many teachers leave school each day so tired and stressed that they have run out of pixie dust and don't know where to find more. I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies for what I believe. I am passionate about making learning magical for all students. I want to help empower my students with courage, passion, and confidence so they can become more fully who they were meant to be. Education needs my voice. Education needs your voice. Have I changed? I don’t know that I’ve fully answered that yet, but I do know I am more fully me.
In my recent interactions with educators virtually and face to face, three “D” words have come up way too often.
DEFEAT . DISCOURAGEMENT . DOUBT
These words cross all grade levels and subject areas, afflicting new and veteran teachers. In this amazing world of being connected we have a waterfall of ideas cascading down on us continuously. The possibilities for creating amazing learning experiences in our classroom are endless. However, too often those possibilities paralyze rather than free us. Instead of feeling invigorated by all that we could do, inadequacy overcomes us and we get flooded with defeat, discouragement, and doubt. We see the "picture perfect" classrooms rather than the messy, real learning that actually takes place. We begin to think that making learning magical is only possible for the “”Mary Poppins” teachers, those that are practically perfect in every way.
I hate to break it to you all, but I’m far from perfect. Learning IS messy. I may take pretty pictures of my students’ food and the magic moments that happen, but the truth is there are a lot of misfires that lead up to them. There are days when I feel inadequate too as I look at all of the amazing educators out there in the world. But this is what I have learned. I have a choice every day to create an environment where my students are immersed and empowered. It may not be perfect, I may fail, it may be messy, I may not be ready to try the new innovative strategy or digital tool that my friend across the United States or hall is integrating, but I’m going to bring my own magic.
You, my friends, have a magic all your own. Don’t compare yourself to the teacher across the hall, country, or globe. They have found a magic that works for them, but I bet there is a lot of mess behind their magic too. They are human just like you and I are. Next time you are scrolling social media or chatting in the teacher workroom, don’t let yourself be overcome with inadequacy, but instead allow yourself to appreciate the uniqueness of the educators you encounter. Something extraordinary happens when you stop peering in the “picture perfect” windows that we scroll or walk past, and actually start engaging in conversations with the educators that created them. Before long we realize that they face the same struggles as us and are real people too. We learn more about their story and the road they have taken to get there. As we get to know these educators that we admire (or envy) as people, our feelings of inadequacy shift and we become inspired to make incremental changes in our own practice. Don't allow discouragement, doubt, and defeat to creep in. Instead, file away the ideas you want to try and leave the ones you don’t. With your own special flair, introduce new ideas as you are ready and little by little your classroom will begin to transform into a space that holds a special magic unique to you and your students.
It’s also important to realize that what may seem ordinary or obvious in our own practice may be amazing to someone else. The teaching strategies that we put into practice day after day, become routine and we forget that our "obvious" may be a groundbreaking idea or pivotal shift in someone else’s practice. When we begin opening up our doors and start sharing our classroom experiences we can make a positive impact on someone else’s journey. As others start to engage with us, they will also realize that there is lots of “real” in our story that is far from perfect. One of my favorite videos to share is "Obvious to you. Amazing to Others" by Derek Sivers. (I've attached it below.)
So next time you walk past the “Mary Poppins” classroom or scroll past the “picture perfect” idea, kick the doubt, discouragement, and defeat to the curb and remember….you hold the magic. Go make it happen!
It was my birthday. November 7, 2014 and I was spending it alone (so I thought) in Miami, Florida at a conference called Miami Device (rebranded as, Shift in EDU). I was on the brink of walking away from education. Only four short months prior I was ready to throw in the towel. I was tired, burnt out, and frustrated. At the height of my despair, I was awarded a grant for a classroom set of ipads and some professional development to go along with it. What some may have considered a reason for celebration, I felt trepidation. I had never used ipads in my class before, and I had no idea where to start. However, a series of serendipitous encounters including ipadpalooza in Austin, Texas (now rebranded as LearnFest) and this “Twitter EDUworld” I had discovered, began to shift my "Eeyore" mentality from one of gloom to hope.
This was only the 2nd edtech conference I had been to, and I really was in a state of shock. I hadn’t ever experienced education like this before. So many amazing sessions, presenters, and hello...it was Miami! I remember I had just begun to listen to a podcast series called EDUallstars on my morning runs when I spotted one of the show hosts’, Todd Nesloney, at the conference and I was a bit starstruck. I remember feeling in awe of the experience, but alone. All of these amazing educators in one place, where did I fit into this mix of EDUawesomeness?
An introvert by nature, I am not one that is super comfortable mingling or striking up conversations with people I don’t know so I stood on the sidelines taking it all in, wondering if I looked as awkward as I felt. I must have looked like a fish out of water, because just as I was ready to retreat back to my hotel room to hide, someone I had met the previous day came up to me and said, “What are you doing standing there by yourself? Come with me, I have some people for you to meet?” He whisked me off to be introduced to person after person making me feel like I truly belonged there. If it hadn’t been for that act of intentional kindness, I may have gone home from that conference feeling as disconnected as I did when I came. Instead, I ended up spending my birthday with an amazing group of educators that I now call friends. Most of us have stayed connected via Voxer and Twitter, and the kind man, Rodney Turner, is part of a Voxer group that I am in conversation with daily. We share our ups, downs, triumphs, and challenges. We’ve cried and laughed and encouraged each other through many of life’s obstacles. These people that I very rarely have a chance to see face to face, I consider some of dearest friends.
I’ve shared the “Rodney” story frequently over the years in various forms, because it was pivotal for me as an educator. I left the palm trees, balmy air, and Key Lime pie knowing that my life as an educator had changed. My days of despair were over and I was beginning to feel less like Eeyore, and a bit more like Tigger. I’ve pondered many times where I would be if it hadn’t been for that intentional act of kindness by someone who understood the power of being connected and have made it my mission to pass on this kindness by reaching out and helping others get connected too. Thank you, Rodney, for making a difference in my EDUjourney!
This past week I attended the ACTE Careertech Vision conference in San Antonio. It was amazing, and I will share more in another post. However, it was a new conference for me with educators that I was not connected with and those feelings of awkwardness that I had felt 4 years ago at Miami Device came flooding back. I looked in on groups of educators walking to sessions, sharing, and laughing and wished I was connected too. Fortunately I am in a different place now and am much more courageous than I used to be, pushing myself out of my comfort zone to connect with new people. I left San Antonio, with an expanded PLN of amazing Career and Technical and Family and Consumer educators, but also keenly aware of how important it is to not only be connected, but to be a connector.
In this season of giving and gratitude, give a shout-out to those who have been pivotal in your EDUjourney. I would also encourage you to pay attention to those around you who are on the fringes, longing to be connected. If you are at a conference and see someone standing alone, introduce yourself and to others in your group. Help them feel a sense of belonging and show them how valuable it is to be connected. If you are in a Twitter chat and realize someone is just joining in for the first time, help them feel welcome.
If you are not connected and feel like a fish out of water in this connected EDUworld, reach out! I will introduce you to some amazing peeps and communities! We need each other!
Check out Twitter 101 for EDUs by @TaraMartinEDU to learn Twitter essentials and get connected! It's an incredible resource!
I love having my daughter home from college for the holidays. To have our family complete again, is a special gift that I treasure. My daughter enjoys playing games as much as I do, and I always look forward to this time together.
This holiday weekend we started rifling through our game closet as we usually do, when we unexpectedly unearthed a transparent rose-colored box filled with small blue containers. All I remember about this box, was that it was a homemade game that been given to me decades ago by my grandma. After many moves it had unfortunately been tucked away out of sight, and forgotten. Our recent move must have unearthed this hidden treasure and brought it back into our mix of games again. My daughter and I both looked at the box and then exchanged a look of intrigue. I knew this game was begging to be played.
As I brought the game to our dining room table, a folded up blue piece of paper came tumbling out. As I unfolded the paper and began to read, memories of childhood of game play flooding into my mind. I loved opening up my grandma's game cupboard and carefully selecting games with my siblings and cousins. We would stay entertained for hours playing all of our favorites. Discovering this little box of blue containers was like unlocking a piece of my family history. I could hear my grandmother sweet voice as she explained this game’s significance...
3 letters = 10 points
The person with the high score wins!
As I stared at this blue sheet of paper holding a little piece of family history, it dawned on me how much of a legacy my grandma has made on my life. I reflected back on how much she loved not only games, but game shows. So did I. When I was young I remember the best part of staying home from school sick was laying on the couch with my Vernor’s Gingerale and soda crackers watching game shows all day. I loved watching classics like the $25,000 Pyramid, Hollywood Squares, and the Joker’s Wild. No doubt this fascination of game play and game shows has made an impact on my educational journey as I have infused many gamification strategies into my teaching as well as adapting games that I love and using them for learning. Who knew that my grandma was creating her own games too?! So cool.
After reading my grandma’s letter, I did a little Google search and discovered a little more about this game my grandma loved. The NBC television game show, Charge Account, premiered in 1960 and was a segment of The Jan Murray Show. Just as she described, on the show a container of 16 letters was selected and tossed in a cylinder. One by one the letters were called out and each of the two contestants strategically placed them in a square of choice within a 16-square grid to make the most three or four letter words that they could. Contestants received $25 for each four-letter word they created and $10 for each three-letter word. The player with the most money won the game and used his or her winnings to buy one of the three prizes shown to them at the beginning of the game.
Knowing this little piece of history, made me super excited to start playing. I didn’t want to waste any more time getting started. We took the 14 blue containers out of the rose colored box and found 16 letter tiles and a filled out grid nestled inside that indicated the perfect letter arrangement.
We each drew a 16-box grid on a piece of paper and opened up the first container and placed it in the center of the table. One-by-one we turned over a cardboard tile and wrote the letter revealed on our grid. Once, all the tiles were called out we counted up our 3 and 4 letter words in each row, vertically and horizontally, and wrote a 10 or 25 by each one to calculate our total score. We kept a score sheet to tally our points, and then opened the second container to start round 2. All 14 rounds were played and when we were finished, we added up all our points and the player with the highest score won.
It was so much fun! I could easily see why my grandma played this game so much, and now my head was spinning with ideas! Just like I’ve done with many other games, I could adapt this one for classroom learning as well! Better yet, it could be played with a variety of ages and unlimited players at once. I even had our 7 year old niece joining in the fun this weekend!
I immediately began thinking of how to streamline this game for classroom play. Instead of hand drawing out my grid, I could create a template with 14 blank grids and a key with the perfect letter arrangement for each round of game play. (I've attached the pdf I created below) Now I needed to figure out how to replicate the tiles, without having to cut out the squares like my dad had painstakingly done. Within no time, my daughter had found a digital app that could randomly select letters. We tried that one round, but realized that having too random a selection of letters to be drawn made word creation difficult. For instance, the round we played only had 2 vowels. We knew there had to be a digital app out there that could allow us to select a series of letters to be called at random and save them for future rounds. Sure enough, there was! The free ios app “Letters” was just what I was looking for. I could program each of my 14 containers of letters within the app so they were ready when I played the game with my class. I could even mirror my ipad to the screen so students could see each letter as it was being called off in each round. Adapting this game for the classroom was easier than I had expected. All I’d need to do was copy off enough grid templates for my class and download the Letters app and I’d be ready to go!
With 14 pre-made sets of letter combinations, you could play as few or many rounds as you wanted. I could even come up with new letter combinations or better yet, have the students create them! Give students a blank grid template and challenge them to come up with the perfect grid that is filled in perfectly with four letter words both horizontally and vertically. You could also make it a team challenge and see which team could come up with the most perfect grids within a certain amount of time! The 4 C's in action!
What about math? My daughter's friend had a great idea. What if instead of letters, you called off numbers? You could have different goals each round. One round students could have to place numbers in the grids to make rows that were multiples of five. The next round students may be trying to create rows of prime numbers. What about even, odd, or multiples of numbers? I am not math minded, but all you math teachers out there I’m sure have lots more ideas!
I hope in sharing a bit of my family history, you will find as much enjoyment from this throwback game as I did! I've shared a pdf of the grid template and containers combinations with you below.
I encourage you to open up that game closet and think of how your favorite family games could be adapted for classroom learning. Don't have a game closet? Turn on the Game Show Network and your mind will be swirling with ideas in no time! The possibilities for bringing games into education is endless!
Share out your ideas for this game or others on Twitter and tag #MLmagical! We are all in this game together!
I fell in love with the movie "The Greatest Showman: Reimagined" the first time I saw it and though I have heard this song many times, for some reason when I listened to a youtube video of Pink singing, "A Million Dreams", with her daughter Willow, the floodgates opened. This song. At this moment. Awoke something in my soul.
'Cause every night, I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
Oh, a million dreams for the world we're gonna make
-Pink, A Million Dreams, The Greatest Showman: Reimagined
When I left the culinary classroom this Summer after 22 years, I had never loved teaching more. I was saying goodbye to a room that had made a metamorphosis into a magical place where students were immersed, empowered and ready to leave a legacy. My classroom wasn’t the only thing that went through a transformation though, I had as well. I wasn’t the teacher that four years prior was ready to call it quits and run to the comfort of a local coffee shop to perfect the art of making a latte. I was leaving because of the million magical dreams that filled my head and kept me awake at night. I knew that if my heart could be restored with joy, passion and a love for teaching and learning, it could happen for others too.
I was leaving the classroom to be a Tech Integration Specialist, but really what I wanted to be called was a Joy Specialist. My heart longs to restore the joy of teaching and learning that so often gets clouded with the pressures that come with education. Joy is contagious, but it also is courageous. We have to choose it. Every day. We have to decide to be intentional about choosing to find wonder, and magic in the world around us and go beyond what is comfortable to find what is best. How often do we chase graduation rates and test scores when what we really need to chase is joy. If our classrooms are places filled with the joy of learning, do you think it's possible that graduation rates and test scores would start taking care of themselves? The stress and pressure to perform would be replaced with the desire to soar and leave a legacy on this world.
What if joy became foundational to all we do? What if joy was the heartbeat of our schools? The reality is, though most would love to infuse heaps of joy into their classroom it seems like a futile dream. The stakes are too high, the pressure to great. What if I fail? What if people think I’m crazy? What if my test scores don’t improve? What if? What if? What if?
In the book 18 Minutes, author Peter Bregman shares the story of the overnight sensation, Susan Boyle. She walked onto the UK television show, Britain’s Got Talent stage to only be mocked and ridiculed. It wasn’t till the music started and she began to sing that the millions of people watching were stunned by the angelic voice coming from a seemingly ordinary person.
“There is grace in being molded by your own gifts. To allow yourself to be molded by your own gifts takes courage. You have to be willing to stand there, exposed and authentic , while the audience rolls their eyes at you and sneers, expecting failure. And then, of course, you have to fail, laugh or cry, and keep going until, one day they stop laughing and start clapping.”
-18 Minutes, Peter Bregman
DREAM IN BRIGHT COLOR
We may feel ordinary or awkward, but if we dare to dream in bright color think of the possibility! The truth is, the magic is in you. We don’t need to remain caterpillars, we can become butterflies! But, it takes courage to dream and to believe that there is more; that we don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them. We can do better.
When I think back on my journey, I think of how, like my classroom, I’ve gone through a sort of metamorphosis as an educator by daring to dream. There were people that scoffed, snickered, and ridiculed; there still are. But once I knew that what was happening in my classroom was making a difference, I began to ignore the naysayers. There was no turning back. I stopped focusing on, “What if I fail?” and began to focus on, “What if they fly?”
FIND THE JOY SEEKERS AND SUNSHINE SPREADERS
I also began to find the joy seekers & sunshine spreaders; the people who inspire, challenge, and encourage me to keep going when I feel defeated. We all need people in our lives that tell us through their words and actions, “I believe in you!” Find your tribe. Sometimes you will find that those you think are going to be your biggest cheerleaders, are the ones that let you down. Don’t let them take you down. Often times it’s their own insecurities that prevent them from finding joy in your transformation.
START DREAMING...YOU HOLD THE MAGIC!
What could our schools and classrooms become if we dared to reimagine them as magical places of joy? Listen to this beautiful version of 'A Million Dreams' sung by Pink and her daughter Willow and start envisioning what would happen if we dared to dream in bright color. You hold the magic!
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.