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!
Today was one of those “teary” days. The kind of day where the simplest of things sends a waterfall of tears cascading down your face for no apparent reason. Can anyone relate? When a friend asked me if there was any particular reason I was feeling "teary", I really didn’t know. It could have been a myriad of factors with exhaustion being one of them. All I know is that when my emotions are heightened and sensitivities are acute it creates what I like to call the "perfect storm" for a downpour. Today wasn’t any different. However, it wasn’t until I was driving home with tears rolling down my face that I realized my "teary day" was actually quite serendipitous.
365 days ago was a MEMORABLE BEGINNING that I’ll never forget. It was the day I became a DBC, Inc published author of my manifesto, Make Learning Magical. Many of my women author friends relate the writing process to childbirth and it really is quite true. The day you learn your words will be published is a true celebration. I couldn’t believe that this dream was actually coming to fruition. The months to follow are like being on a rollercoaster. There are many ups and downs; days when you feel like you are gradually inching uphill and others where you are flying down at exhilarating speeds. There are also days where you feel like your insides are twisted in knots as sheer fear grips you. You spend countless hours pouring your heart out onto the page in hopes that it will come together coherently and resonate with the reader. Edits, sleepless nights, tears, and more edits all lead up to the projected due date when your book is born, Hearing the words, “It’s LIVE” is the most surreal feeling in the world. It’s incredible, mind-blowing, and also super scary. Sharing your story is vulnerable and terrifying. What if people are disappointed? What if people disagree with your viewpoint? What if people get to know the real you through your writing and don't like you? ...and the list goes on. However, when you receive positive feedback from people that connect with your message, there is absolutely nothing like it. It is pure joy to know that your story is impacting another.
I had a secret fear that my book was going to be published on September 11, a day that carries such terror and sadness, and it was. It didn’t dull my joy on the day it was published, but today when I woke up I must admit I was a little blue. I felt guilty to share any joy associated with my book’s first birthday since 9/11 conjures up so many negative and powerful emotions. Then I realized how wonderful it was that I had the opportunity to share a positive message with the world on a day that held such sadness. In my small way I was able to fight evil with good.
Today began at 4am when our family drove our Italian exchange student to the airport after a 2-week stay with us in Southern Oregon. Last Spring our son traveled to Alba, Italy with 20 other local students through the Alba/Medford Sister City Exchange Program. He stayed with a host family during his stay and their teen boy came to the US this past month so we could reciprocate the hospitality. To participate in this exchange of cultures is truly indescribable. Students are completely immersed in each other’s culture and lifestyle for the weeks that they visit. The friendships forged are powerful and lasting. To be at the airport this morning as families said their goodbyes was heartwarming to say the least. Italians are returning home knowing they will forever have a home here in America because of the close bonds that were fused through this experience. This is the ultimate example of AUTHENTIC AUDIENCE. The lessons learned from these global connections were real, relevant, and lasting. This is an experience that will never be forgotten.
Days packed full of social events with Italian guests coupled with a 3 am alarm has put me on sensitivity overload. I already have a sonar for fluctuations in people’s moods, body language, and even texting behaviors. Today my sonar was on red alert and it honestly made me mad! Internally I was beating myself up for being the sensitive person that I was created to be. As I walked out of the building to get a quick bite to eat, negative thoughts filled my head. I decided to go to a little fast food Mexican restaurant that I rarely go to so I could get something quick and still have time to run an errand. As I walked in, a man waiting at the door said hello and after doing a double take said, “Do I know you?” I recognized the man from attending school sporting events so answered, “Yes, I taught your kids.” All of a sudden a look of recognition lit up his face and he said, “You’re the culinary teacher! You taught all 3 of them! They loved you!” He went on to share how they are all utilizing the cooking skills that I taught them and how one even wants to become a chef and is saving up money to start his own business. Tears welled up in my eyes as I said, “I love all three of your kids, please tell them hi.” I ordered and he waited for his food. Then as he walked out the door said, "You made a difference in my kid’s lives. They won’t forget you." It took that magical encounter for me to realize that if I hadn’t shown my AUTHENTICITY to my students, I may not have made that same impact. The qualities that I find to be my achilles heel, are the same qualities that make me so passionate about making learning magical for students. It also made me realize that the opportunities for AGENCY that allow students to discover and pursue their passion contributed to my these three students developing a love for cooking and even pursue it as a career. If I hadn’t empowered my students with agency, would they have chosen to develop their cooking skills beyond my class? If it weren’t for that encounter today, I may not have known that they were still enjoying to cook or that the eldest was wanting to be a chef. We often don’t get a chance to hear those stories, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being told somewhere. Don’t ever underestimate the LEGACY that you leave. Our impact is powerful and lasting.
I came back to my office after my magical encounter and immersed myself in creating a new GAMIFIED EXPERIENCE for our innovation team with a new app I'm really excited about! More to come!!! I also collaborated on a BreakoutEDU experience that will most certainly pique student's curiosity in our new Medford Online program. I absolutely love supporting teachers in amplifying CREATIVITY, COLLABORATION, and CURIOSITY in their classroom and I feel so lucky to get to immerse myself in this exciting work everyday. I am continually pushing myself out of what's comfortable to bring INNOVATION and magical learning to all students.
As I drove home my tear-filled eyes came into clear focus as I began to realize how serendipitous the day was.. When each encounter and experience was woven together, it became a beautiful depiction of my MAGICAL acronym:
AUTHENTICITY & AGENCY
CREATIVITY, COLLABORATION, & CURIOSITY
Do you know what’s even more serendipitous? This morning I was showing some of our teachers how to use Pear Deck Flashcard Factory and I asked them to choose a word to model game play. Guess which word they chose…..serendipitous. It's true. A “teary” day turned out to be a day full of MAGICAL serendipity.
I love to create. It brings me joy and allows me to express myself in a variety of ways. As an educator, I get pretty excited when I find a tool that allows me to tap into that creativity in a new and innovative way. My mind starts swirling with possibility when I begin to think about what it could mean not only for my learning, but for students as well. In the past few months I started to explore a new digital tool called Buncee! As usual when I discover a digital tool that I love, the ideas just keep coming! The beauty of this tool is in its intuitiveness, functionality, and the variety of choice it opens up for creativity and demonstration of learning for students of all ages.
As I began to explore the possibilities, I began to think about my gamified classroom and how fun it would be to create cards and badges for my students with Buncee! One type of badge that I love to create is a mystery badge. This is a badge that has a mystery amount of experience points on it covered by a scratch off sticker. I give these out to teams or individuals that win specific challenges or accomplish missions in my class. Covering up the card’s worth adds a bit of mystery and wonder as well as encourages students to strategize. With all of the amazing features within Buncee coupled with it’s intuitive design, making Mystery Badges was a breeze and they look AMAZING! I created this tutorial video to show you just how easy creating Mystery XP Badges in Buncee can be!
Now let’s take it a step further and think about what this could look like for student learning! As amazing as it is to create your own badges and cards within Buncee, imagine how empowering it could be if students did the creating! When we let go of some of the control and put it in the hands of students they will amaze and inspire you! In this tutorial video I will show you how your students can create amazing mystery badges to use in your classroom.
Download student badges and upload them into the Google Drawing template as in the first tutorial. Now badges are ready to print, laminate, and cut! Place a scratch-off sticker over number and Voila! Your Mystery badge is ready to award!
The more I create with Buncee, the more my imagination goes wild with the possibilities for magical learning!! There are so many other cards and badges you can create as well!
Chance Cards: Think about what students are always begging you to do and turn it into a chance card! “Get out of homework card”, “You choose your seat for the day” card, “Cross off one question on the quiz” card., etc. You want chance cards that students are motivated to earn? Have them think about what they are always wanting and they create the cards!! When students demonstrate great employability skills, or win a classroom challenge they can reach into the box and draw one out to redeem at a time they choose. Students love them!
Badges: Create badges for completing certain tasks or achieving specific skills. Award the badges as they are earned! They may contain experience points (XP) that allow them to level up or maybe they try to collect all of the badges in a set. There are lots of ways badges can be issued. You choose what is best for your grade and content!
I have my students store badges and chance cards in a baseball card sleeve. They are durable, inexpensive, reusable and will clip into a 3-ring binder. You can find them HERE.
Card Game: I love creating card games for learning. Take the elements of your favorites and make your own! Better yet, have your students create the game! It’s amazing what students come up with when we give them a chance to unleash their creativity!!
I’d love to see you what types of cards and badges you create with this incredible digital tool! Check out the ideas lab for inspiration! It is an incredible source to launch you and your students into a world of creation! Share on Twitter and make sure to tag me @tishrich, @buncee and include #MLmagical!
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.