Milli Vanilli is my favorite day of the year. It is the final culmination of a year's worth of activities for classes to earn spirit points in hopes to win the highly coveted spirit trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Each class spends hours in the months prior to the competition choreographing dances all based around our school year's theme. This year's theme was Back in Blue. Classes were given different decades and songs chosen had to fit into that theme. They had to mash a variety of songs together under 4 minutes and come up choreography that could incorporate as many students within the class as possible. The school holds a special assembly and each class performs in the gymnasium. Local celebrity judges come in to judge the event and determine the overall score.
The collaboration, creativity, and dedication that takes place to pull this off is pretty remarkable. Not to mention, this experience unifies the class in a way that wouldn't happen otherwise. They are coming together around a common goal and having a blast doing it... a fantastic way to build a positive school culture!
This is all fantastic, but let me tell you what I love about these days. The staff dances too! Staff members sign up for different choreographed dances to participate in and they dance their hearts out for the students. It's crazy, hilarious, and kids LOVE it! To see the students faces and hear the cheers when their favorite staff members walk out onto stage is priceless. The excitement and energy that fills the gym is palpable. Students love to see their favorite teachers and staff members willing to risk looking silly for them. It is a a bit of a time commitment to come together and practice, but it also a chance to meet and collaborate with teachers that you may not normally get a chance to. At the end of the school year and all the craziness that comes with testing, special events, and lack of sleep it is refreshing to have a reason to be silly and carefree and come together as a school.
Creating opportunities to be collaborative, creative, and just plain silly is incredibly important in building a positive school culture. Milli Vanilli is the perfect example of a tradition that does just that. Nothing quite compares to the electricity that fills the gym when 2000 students and 100 staff members risk silliness to come together and dance their hearts out! Girl....you know it's true! (sorry, couldn't resist!)
I went out to eat with my son the other night and I asked him this question, "What are you most passionate about?" Little did I know what a deep and rich conversation that question would launch us into. My son is creative, passionate, a deep-thinker, hilarious, a great communicator and collaborator. He has brilliant ideas, dreams, and passions. But, here's the thing. School is very difficult for him. He has difficulty finding the relevance and the connections. He doesn't focus well when information is being given to him audibly. When he talks about school he sounds deflated. He doesn't feel successful. He doesn't fit into the mold. School makes him feel "less then". My heart broke as he was talking because I realized, this was me. I was never a high achieving student. I didn't get stellar grades, I wasn't in AP classes, I didn't make it on the honor roll. I wasn't able to see at the time my strengths, my gifts, my passions because, they didn't look like everyone else's. They didn't fit into the "high achieving" student mold. I graduated from high school not knowing where I fit and it took me quite a while to figure it out.
My son loves fashion and design. He loves following trends and designers. When he begins to talk about it his eyes light up, he gets animated and excited, their is passion in his voice. Out pours all he has researched, the trends he follows, the designers that are paving the way in the design world right now. He talks about youtube videos, Instagram posts, and blogs. This kid knows his stuff. He researches. He's building a global network. Did he learn this from school? No. Did he learn this from me? No. He dives into what he is passionate about and immerses himself in it.
This is not an attack on his teachers, or his school. He has passionate teachers and he goes to a great school. However, I do believe often times as educators our perception is skewed. We are frustrated by students lack of compliance, their lack of focus, their lack of interest, when we have presented education as a pill to swallow rather than an exciting adventure to embark on. Our kids know that our world is changing rapidly. They recognize the need for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication and yet too often they aren't being challenged to develop those skills in the classroom. Are we connecting our content to our student's passions? Are we giving them a chance to discover what those passions even are? Are we giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in new ways and connect with a global audience? Are we giving them access to the technology that is integral in this ever-changing world? Are we making learning relevant? Are we empowering them to make learning their own? My son is not the minority. Our kids are taking learning into their own hands. They are pursuing interests outside of school. How can we help them know what to do with this knowledge and help them foster the skills that are going to help them take this knowledge and change the world?
Life is busy and in the Spring, the busy gets busier. Most days I am able to juggle it all, but this last Friday was not one of those days. It was a busy week and a crazy morning and all it took was one question from someone video recording my response to completely paralyze me. The question was “Why is education important?” A straight-forward question; one that I could talk for hours about. Yet, in that moment I was completely flustered and had no idea how to articulate my answer. I finally was able to blurt something out, and I still have no idea if what I said made any sense at all.
Then it happened…. As I proceeded to teach my next period class the flood gates opened. Yep, I started crying. And crying. And crying. I couldn’t stop. My students were concerned and trying to figure out what was wrong and to be completely honest, I had no idea. The video answer wasn’t a big deal. It certainly wasn’t the first time I blundered my way through an answer. It was just the last straw. It was the breaking point.
My student's responses were truly precious. They offered encouraging words, hugs, and the comfort food they were preparing for their Midwestern Regional Challenge. They said the sweetest things to help me feel better. Then one student said something that really impacted me. She said, “Mrs. Richmond, I love that you can cry in front of us. It shows you are real. That’s why we love you.” That statement will stay with me for a long time. I want to be real. My kids need to know that I have bad days too and hit my breaking point just like they do. If I am going to model taking risks, learning, and growing I need to be willing to model a good cry too.
The same day my friend, Tara Martin, posted an awesome blog post, Dear Highly Reflective One, that really resonated with me. As I read through the benefits and flaws of someone who is self-reflective, I realized that I could relate to each one:
Benefits of being self-reflective: Me...
Always learning ...I can’t get enough
Always tweaking your practice ...never stop
Seeking feedback to do/be better ...always looking for feedback!
Gives very real feedback to others ...very important to me!
Never reaching a plateau ...always reaching higher
Usually has a vivid imagination ...yep!
Big dreamer ...I dream in vivid color, always!
Viewed as Creative ...but, don’t always see it in myself
Everything is seen as a learning opportunity ...take on too many opportunities!
Flaws of being self-reflective:
Self-doubt ...um yes, so much!
Doesn’t get a lot of critical feedback, but craves it ...Always!
Over analyzes lack of feedback ...Constantly
Rarely celebrates success ...so hard for me!
Struggles to accept compliments ...so awkward!
As soon as project ends, on to something new ...mind never stops spinning
Feels there is always room for growth ...never stop fine-tuning
Must master the task, even if it about kills you ...and sometimes it almost does.
Making time to rest is not a priority ...sadly true.
When I read through these I realized my mind rarely rests. I am passionate about learning and growing and thankfully, I have a career doing what I love. However, here lies the problem. I wear out. I reach my limit. When that happens, I get flustered, I become paralyzed, and….I cry.
So as I reflect on this flustered Friday. Here are my take-aways….
I need to give myself grace.
I need to find time to rest.
I need to accept support and encouragement.
I need to continue being real.
I need to keep learning and growing.
I need to keep dreaming.
And….sometimes I just need a good cry!
*Shout out to Tara Martin for her honest and real writing. It gives me courage to be honest and real in mine.
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.