As a little girl, I remember running into the house everyday excited to watch another episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on television. The memories of this friendly little community evoke so many positive emotions. In fact, it’s hard to articulate how much of an impact it made on my upbringing and my life. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was more than an entertaining children’s television program. It was a daily reminder that I was valuable, worthy of love, and accepted just as I was. I was lucky to grow up in a home where this message was echoed loudly. My mom would sing “It’s You I Like” as a bedtime lullaby and would validate my worth daily in countless ways. For that, I’m so incredibly grateful. I think about the homes where love and acceptance isn’t spoken. These 30 minutes a day may have been the only place a child was told they are special, valued, and that their feelings mattered. How many lives were shaped by a man who spoke love through a television screen?
Tonight I watched the new movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with my son. As I watched actor,Tom Hanks, play the character of Mr. Rogers, nostalgia wafted over me. The emotions of a sensitive little girl came flooding back and I started to piece together how Fred Rogers left such a profound legacy. It seems quite complex at first thought. There were so many values and life lessons he taught. Though when you really sum it up, it’s quite simple. It was never about him. He wasn’t in it for fame or celebrity status. He pursued a life of purpose, passion and a pursuit of making the world a better place because he cared deeply about people. He understood the incredible responsibility he had to his viewing public and he took it very seriously. He valued life and he lived that on and off the screen in numerous ways.
VALUE PEOPLE BY LISTENING
Fred Rogers taught us that each person has extreme value. When Fred talked to you through the television or in real life, you were the most important person in the room. As expressed in countless interviews and documentaries I've watched, he didn’t try to finish your thoughts or speak over you. He listened intently and fully and when he spoke it was slow and intentional. It is easy to indicate when a person is truly listening to me. I can tell when they are looking at me, but actually focused on another conversation around me; distracted with their thoughts, or trying to formulate a response before I’m done speaking. It feels horrible. It makes me feel disrespected and like what I’m saying is unimportant. It is horrifying to think that I may have made others feel the same way in past conversations. Am I truly listening with an open mind and heart when others speak? Am I giving them my full and utmost attention? I want to learn to listen like Fred and make people feel special and valued always. In education we are bombarded with distractions continuously. It’s easy to half listen because of the hundreds of thoughts and problems that are circulating through our mind at any given moment. I am guilty! But, it breaks my heart to think that someone could think that what I’m doing in that moment is more important than what they have to tell me. The reality is, sometimes we can’t give our full attention at any given moment. However if that is the case, we need to tell a person that and let them know when we will be able to. Listening is valuing those we serve and letting them know they are important and special and liked just the way they are.
VALUE PEOPLE'S EMOTIONS
Fred Rogers acknowledged that emotions are normal and gave strategies for dealing with them in a positive way. He talked about big issues because he believed that anything “mentionable is manageable” and worth talking about. I learned early that the big feelings I was hiding inside were normal and that talking about them was important. I remember being afraid of the events on the news and conversations I’d hear adults talk about. Listening to Mr Rogers talk about them in a way I understood, helped me process and understand them. I was fortunate to live in a home where emotions were welcomed and expressed freely, but even then there were emotions that I didn’t understand, express, or know what to do with. When Mr Rogers looked straight into the camera it was like he was talking directly to me. I felt normal and that what I was experiencing in my thoughts was validated. When the trolley entered the land of make-believe, I was entering a world where I could grapple with emotions in a pretend space that felt safe and non-threatening. Our students come into our classes with many emotions that they don’t know what to do with? How are we helping them process them? Our world can be a scary and confusing place and our students need to feel safe sorting out all the feelings that face them on a daily basis? Acknowledging that our students feelings are normal and giving them strategies to deal with them in a positive way is going to make a lasting impact on how they handle their emotions for a lifetime.
VALUE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE BROUGHT YOU INTO BEING
In Fred’s acceptance speech when inducted into the TV Hall of Fame as well as the Emmy Awards, he paused for 10 seconds after asking this very important question, “Who are the people who loved you into being and shaped who you are today. Who made you the best version of you that you’ve ever been." It’s important to acknowledge the important part those who’ve loved us played in making us who we are. We don’t walk this life alone. There are people who care about us and want what is best for us in life. They believe in us when we doubt ourselves. They speak truth when we need to hear it. They love us when we feel unlovable. When we pause to recognize and appreciate those who have helped shape who we are, it also reminds us of the responsibility and privilege we have to love others into being as well. How can we help our students appreciate and acknowledge those that are loving them into being? Showing students ways to express appreciation and gratitude helps allows students to see the pivotal part that others are playing in their life as well as the impact they can make on others’ lives too.
As I watched a beautiful day in the neighborhood tonight I’m reminded of the power of a legacy. We each hold the incredible responsibility to live a life of purpose, passion, and to make this world a better place through our own unique gifts, skills, and talents. As educators we have the opportunity to love students into being. How cool is that?! We make choices every day that help shape the lives of the youth we serve. When we are present and listen fully, we are showing people that they are the most important person in our world at that moment; that they are valued, respected, and heard. When we validate our students feelings and create spaces where they feel safe to share and learn to express them in positive ways, we are helping them navigate a lifetime of emotions and handle them in a healthy way. When we appreciate and value those who have loved and shaped who we are today, we honor the legacy of others. In Fred’s acceptance speech when inducted into the TV Hall of Fame he beautifully expresses his passion and purpose of legacy that will live on for generations:
“Fame is a four letter word. And like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job is. We are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen day and night.”
“Life isn’t cheap. It is the greatest mystery of any millenium and television needs to do all it can to broadcast that. To show and tell what the good in life is all about. But how do we make goodness attractive. By doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own. By treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves and by allowing that to inform everything that we produce."
“We all only have one life to live on earth and through television we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative and imaginative ways”
Read this again and replace the word "television" with “education”. I want to live my life like Fred. With passion, purpose, and intention, bringing value to a broken world of people that so desperately needs to feel accepted and loved. We all only have one life to live on earth. How are we going to value and encourage those we serve? Don't ever underestimate the power of your legacy. You are making a lasting impact on this world and generations to come. I want to live like Fred, but I know what he'd say. Live like YOU. Because there is no else like you on this earth and the world needs you, just the way you are.
This acceptance speech will touch your heart. Be prepared to shed a few tears. Tissues suggested.
I was having a very teary day this week when my bestie, Tara Martin, sent me a Vox saying, "Hey girl, are you ready to start up #GratitudeSnaps again?!" It was like someone applied a defibrillator to my heart to jumpstart it back into rhythm. I knew in that moment that a flood of positivity is exactly what I needed in my life. As we chatted about the details of launching our 3rd annual #GratitudeSnaps, my heart swelled with gratitude and joy. Tara is a friend who has consistently "showed up" in my life through fire and rain. Together we've celebrated, cried, cannonballed, ate ice cream, and navigated wild and roaring class 4 rapids. She has been the REALest friend a girl could ask for. Each November of gratitude has found us in a different chapter of our story and yet, it always seems to come at the perfect time. When people begin to flood the Twittersphere with an outpouring of gratitude and love, you can't help but feel the joy. I am almost giddy with excitement to announce that #GratitudeSnaps 19 is launching Friday, November 1st! Read the story of #GratitudeSnaps below to learn how #GratitudeSnaps began! Then, join us! It will bring joy to your heart, I guarantee it!!
The Story of #GratitudeSnaps
Sometimes the REALness of life tackles you like a herd of massive NFL football players, and you lie helplessly dogpiled beneath them. That's pretty close to my state of mind this past week. Of course, on this particular week, I (Tara) forgot to wear my "football helmet," and I paid for it. When I get this way, I begin to hyper-reflect. If you're unsure of that term, check out my blog here that peeks into the TMM brain aka the Highly Reflective One.
As I reflected on all sorts of current TMM circumstances, I felt myself seeping into a deep, dark place. Why? Because, the mind is a powerful, complex organ. In fact, it's essentially the boss of our bodies; it controls everything! It can also wire and rewire itself based on what we feed it. For example, when I dwelt on one negative thought, it created a synapse-connection in my mind. Then, negativity doesn't stop there. You see these types of thoughts are villains in my brain. So, they ran around tempting my STRONG positive synapse-connections to give way to another negative thought, and another and another, until a massive web of negativity consumed my thought-processing compartment. I was so disappointed in myself. In fact, the result was pitiful, to say the least. Within a very short amount of time, my mind was rewired with invalidating thoughts, a sense of complete inadequacy, frustration overload and pretty much a feeling of absolute worthlessness. How did I allow this to happen? Why? It's that thing called being a REAL human. However, this is when I needed a REAL friend. So, I messaged my friend, Tisha. She's my #SoulSister! In the valley or on the mountain top, this girl has my back.
After I had rambled on for what seemed like forever, she gave me some great advice.
REAL Talk - Friend to Friend
As I was talking with Tara, I could completely relate! I said to my friend, “We all find ourselves in that place of negativity at times. I know I do! Life is hard and full of unexpected twists, turns and bumps along the way. Ya know, when I find myself in that deep, dark place it always helps to look back at all of the pivotal events that have helped shape and bring me to where I’m at today. Sometimes those events are positive, and sometimes they are negative. Regardless, they’ve added to my story and if nothing else, made me stronger. Girl, look around you, reflect on the positive that is happening in your life….so many amazing things! Reflecting on those times, allows me to shift my focus from the negative of my current circumstance to all that I have to be grateful for.”
Listening to Tisha's input grounded me (Tara) and helped me "rewire" my brain by breaking some of the newly formed negative synapse-connections and begin replacing them with hopeful ones. I realized at this moment (and voiced it to Tisha)--gratefulness is missing in my life and spirit. That's my problem! I need to look around and realize all of the wonderful things happening in my life of which I should be grateful. In other words, I need to redesign my thought process aka get back to the REAL TMM!
As I was sharing this with Tara, an idea popped into my head! “Hey, Tara! What if you kept a 30-day Gratitude Journal?! Each day you could write about one thing to be grateful for to help climb out of this negativity pit!”
Another idea hit me upside the head that perfectly fit my dear soul sister! “Tara, what about creating #GratitudeSnaps! Instead of a journal, you could take a daily pic of something you are grateful for, make a snap out of it, and then share it out via social media! This would allow you to do what you love “create digitally” AND focus on the positives in your life! Just as #BookSnaps help us connect and draw meaning from the text, #GratitudeSnaps could help connect with the positive that is in our lives in a meaningful way.”
Tara’s Take On the Idea and The Challenge
Instantly, I loved the idea. Of course, as Tisha said, it’s using what I love, my passion of creating digitally and helping me to rewire my mindset. There is so much neuroscience to explain why this works beautifully for not only adults but students (and all humans), but I’ll not bore you with all of the details. However, as educators, it's vital that we try this method of counseling. It’s more than talking to someone; it’s tapping into their passions and strengths to help them overcome. Beautifully done, Tisha. That’s REAL friendship and REAL mentoring. You’re the best!
I’m guessing I’m not the only person in the world that might benefit from finding something to be grateful for each day and snapping it out. In fact, I do not want gratitude to simply hide in my Snap Story--let’s launch this EDUforce!
PLN peeps, have something to be grateful for?
Think you might snap it out each day and share it via Twitter or other social media platforms using the hashtag #GratitudeSnaps?
It’s that easy. Let’s do this thing!
Tisha, take it away.
Ok, Tara, I’m pumped!
So here’s the challenge:
Are you ready to storm the world with a POSITIVE #GratitudeSnaps force? I (Tara) am!
Let’s begin our 30-days of #GratitudeSnaps on July 15, 2019!
The world has plenty of negativity, let’s spread gratitude! We have so much of which to be thankful.
Today I visited schools to check on teachers and I heard a common theme.
I listened and offered whatever support I could. Then, I got in my car and cried. Actually, I sobbed. In fact, I cried for a majority of the day. If you would have asked me why I was so blue, I honestly don’t know that I would have been able to explain it. I just felt an incredible level of heaviness and sadness that I couldn’t explain. It wasn’t until I sat down to write tonight that I realized the place my tears came from. As each teacher shared their story it brought me back to those very raw and real feelings I experienced five years ago.
When people ask me why I wrote a book, left the classroom to support teachers in integrating technology and innovation into their classroom, or spend hours after I get home from work and weekends learning, creating, and sharing my message and resources, this is why.
Five years ago I was a teacher very close to leaving the profession. In fact, I'd go home at night and dream of becoming a barista so I could specialize in latte art. Sounds funny now, but it definitely wasn't funny at the time. A series of events that proceeded launched me on a magical journey of transformation. In the years that followed, my joy for teaching and learning returned and I became a joyful, passionate, fulfilled, and thriving teacher creating unforgettable experiences for students.
Our world is full of teachers that are at the same place as I was five short years ago. They are pouring their heart and soul into their students, and they are struggling. They feel defeated. They are losing hope. Quite possibly, they are dreaming of becoming a barista too. There are students sitting in classrooms across our nation and around the world who desperately need teachers who are:
Because, when our teachers are joyful, passionate, fulfilled, and thriving our students catch it and they become joyful, passionate, fulfilled and thriving learners. I will keep sharing my story, my heart, my message, because if in doing so I can help save one teacher from leaving their classroom I will have saved thousands of students from missing out on the gift they have to give.
For all of you who pour your heart and soul into teaching each day and are feeling tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and are barely holding on for dear life. You are not alone. Don't lose hope. Give yourself grace. I know how hard you are working. I also want you to know there is a magical adventure ahead for you too and generations of students that want to join in with you! You hold the magic!
I recently overheard a conversation between two teen boys that is still replaying in my head two weeks later. One of the boys asked the other a trivia question from the bottom of a Snapple bottle cap. Unable to answer the question correctly upon multiple attempts. The boy said sheepishly, “Ya, I’m not very smart.” As soon as the statement came out of his mouth a mixture of anger and sadness washed over me. I know this boy has never considered himself smart. Not only has he struggled in a school system that hasn’t fit his learning style, he’s also followed the shadow of an older sibling that navigated the system quite well. He has never been in advanced placement classes, scored high on state testing, or been listed on the honor roll however, he is one of the smartest kids I have ever met.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “smart” as:
Mentally alert; bright
Neat, Trim: Stylish in dress or appearance.
This kid is the epitome of each one of these definitions. He has a vibrant personality, the quickest wit of anyone I’ve ever encountered, an uncanny sense of fashion and rhythym, and is extremely knowledgeable in the areas of his passion. Why does our culture have such a narrow and skewed perception of “smart”? I am not pointing blame on his teachers, parents, or schools. I think it goes much deeper than that. It’s embedded in our conversations, television shows, movies, and music. Often the kid who doesn’t excel in school is labeled as “dumb” or not "college bound”. Flippant comments, movie lines, and song lyrics become a repeating dialogue that replays in the minds of people that have gone through life thinking they are not “smart”.
I am a perfect example of somebody that has repeated this dialogue in my head throughout my lifetime. I struggled in school. I had a very difficult time focusing and learning the traditional way. Being a very quiet and well-behaved child masked my very strong indications of ADD/ADHD. So not only did I go through school thinking I wasn’t “smart” I didn’t have the accommodations that would have helped me navigate the school system. I was fortunate to live in a supportive home and have amazing parents and yet, I still listened to the echos of a society that painted "smart" in a way that didn't describe me. It has taken me half a lifetime to finally realize that I am “smart” in a variety of ways and I still struggle believing it. I know that my intuitive and sensitive nature enables me to read the emotional climate of a room very easily, I can see an idea or strategy and be able to find ways to adapt it to a variety of situations, I have an eye for design, and I can make food that is not only delicious, but also beautiful to look at. However, I can’t tell you how awkward it is for me to even share that. In fact, I battle negative self-talk in my mind on the daily. Every time I’m in a room with people who fit my former definition of “smart”, anxiety and imposter syndrome attack me. I have to make a conscious decision to flood my mind with reminders of why I belong in the conversation.
When I think about this teenage boy and my younger self, I am more motivated than ever to help today’s youth discover all the ways that they are “smart” and help our schools foster environments where all of our students can thrive. We live in an amazing and exciting time in education where we can access resources and technology to create absolutely magical learning experiences. Let’s all work together to help all of our students realize how incredibly “smart” they really are so they can discover their true potential.
I have begun my second year as a Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and I absolutely love what I do! To find ways to bring joy and innovation into teaching and learning makes my heart incredibly happy! Last year I formed a team of incredible teachers representing each one of our 19 schools in our K-12 district. These teachers were identified as "Spark Starters" because they exemplified the qualities I find crucial for sparking innovation: Courageous, Encourager, Sunshine Spreader, and Innovator. Read more about last year's Spark Starter launch HERE! This team blew my mind as they they sparked joy and innovation throughout our district!
As I start my second year in this position I absolutely can not wait to watch the sparks catch flame and begin a wildfire! And I must add...as someone who calls Southern Oregon their home, that is the only wildfire I want to see in our area!! Tomorrow we will kick off our gamified PD adventure for our first innovation team gathering and I am beyond excited!!! We have set sail for the Magical C's of Innovation! See the game plan below:
To launch this game I created this promo video that will kick off the game:
After the video we will be forming teams and playing our first team challenge! The secrets of the challenge are hidden inside this box! Shhhh!!! Lots of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking guaranteed!
I am truly giddy with excitement to begin this game and reunite with incredible team! One of aspect of the game that I can't stop talking about is this game app I created using GlideApps! My amazing friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd, told me about this app a month or so ago and I immediately thought it could be a perfect fit for gamification, and it is! This digital tool is LEGIT!! One thing I love is that it allows you to create your very own app without any coding experience!! In fact, the app is populated straight from a Google Spreadsheet!!! I am not even very Google Spreadsheet savvy and it was still super intuitive!! In fact, I think it is very safe to say that if I can create an app you most definitely can too!! To show you how easy it is, check out this screencast I created to show you the basics.
Isn't that cool?! In addition to this game app, I am also creating apps for my own productivity as I travel across the district visiting our 19 schools. I will share more in another blog post! I know I am just skimming the surface with the possibilities! I can't wait to explore and create as I learn more!
Our adventures have just begun! Hope you'll join me as our story unfolds navigating the C's of Innovation this year! It is most certainly going to be a MAGICAL adventure!
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.