Understanding the Challenges of Others

Image Credit: abettermedaybyday.com

Each day when we interact with people, we are encountering diverse individuals like us who have a multitude of blessings and struggles they are trying to overcome in their lives.

Despite the exact situation, one thing is clear- Every single person has a story. We know and remember this when trauma arises; But, with the complexities of daily life, having the opportunities to pause and reconsider this fact may feel few and far between.

Discover Others

Nevertheless, one of my favorite discoveries in life is taking the time to DISCOVER other people. Human beings are fascinating- Each person is a book with a novel story that is unmatched by anyone else.

Except, have you ever noticed how often we book our schedules with unnecessary items, but we still constantly feel this urge to be busy? What if we “booked” more time to get to know one another more as human beings and less as students or colleagues?  
I believe that we can build powerful ties that will strengthen us as individuals and teammates if we spend more time being present in each moment.

Inspiration

During the last few days of school, students Kindergarten through 5th grade placed letters in my mailbox. As I was reading through the notes and drying my watering eyes, one card especially hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Dear Ms. Welty, Thank you for understanding the challenges of others and wanting to do something about it.”

This student described me and my demeanor better in one sentence than I ever could have. It is a profound reminder of how closely students look up to us.

Having said that, this student was correct- If we want to build stronger teams, we must understand the challenges others face and DO something about it.

Try This!

It’s the little things over time that become the compilation of the BIG things that matter. Try adding these little actions into your daily routine:

  • Add More Deep Conversations into your Day 

Instead of always asking questions like, “How are you?” or “How is your day?,” Ask more probing questions that show you are sincere and you want to get to know that person better. Remember this: Authentic questions deliver authentic answers.

  • Take the Time to Listen

It sounds obvious, but it is the most vital skill to learn. Sometimes we ask people exceptional questions, but then through our body language, we show we do not care about their response. Do this: Take the time to let others express themselves without thinking about your personal distractions, like tasks you need to complete. We may think we are great at multitasking, but people can usually tell when we are truly listening or not.

  • Follow-up 

Once a colleague or student has shared something going on in their lives, follow-up with them about it and ask about it again. It always is refreshing to be around others that think of you and take the time to check-in.

  • Take Initiative 

In every school, there are staff members, families, and students who are facing severe family illnesses and other crises. Whether you can help with an act of service or simply be the listening ear, take an active approach to be there for others. Many we encounter each day will never ask for our help but need support. When we take the initiative to offer comfort, we show we are a faithful crew.

  • Do Not Let Stress Take your Best

With all of this said, we too encounter our own personal hurdles that we face outside of school as well. Everyone has bad days and we each deal with stressors differently. Yet, be mindful to ensure that over time your stress does not take the best out of you and others.

Sense of Caring

In closing, this quote by Anthony J D’Angelo is everything, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I have found that nothing is more valuable than time spent loving one another and understanding each other; It is the heart of what we do as educators. When we care about each other like family, we build community.

There are no shortcuts, just love.

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STEM Team Project: Build a Straw Mobile

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and STEM is taking off in schools! STEM is imperative to learn and understand because it blends through countless facets of our lives. Additionally, technology is continuously expanding around us and STEM opportunities in school allows students to have hands-on experience with cutting edge problem solving, inventing, and creating that is beneficial to the learning process while being FUN!

A few weeks ago I came across an awesome hands-on activity through PBS Kids that I shared with another teacher in my school, Jordan Noice. Jordan and I loved the activity so much that we decided to work on the lesson together in her 2nd grade classroom. The activity in this post is inspired by PBS, but I also walk-through other ideas and planning resources that we created through collaboration.

*This lesson worked brilliantly for second grade, but I also believe that this lesson can be formatted and used for a multitude of grade levels.


Overall Lesson Synopsis

Materials

For each prototype we gave student group:

  • 3 straws
  • 4 lifesavers
  • 1 piece of paper
  • 2 paper clips
  • 40 centimeters of tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors

*Students thought carefully about how they would use each material on the list, because once they cut, glue, or taped a material, they would not get a replacement until the next prototype was created. But, students could of course think outside of the box to establish ideas to reuse materials.


Logistics

  • Place 3 to 4 students in each group, for the best collaboration possible
  • Each group will get one set of materials for each prototype they create
    • To make things even more interesting, you could also have student reuse the same materials for each prototype

Lesson Walk-through

*Goal: To build a straw mobile that can move the furthest by only blowing air

We broke the activity into 2 days or “stages” as we called it:

Day 1: Plan, Draw, and Build up to 3 Different Prototypes with Team (1 hour)

Here is our planning sheet we created for students. feel free to make a copy:

During this time period, students were able to draw and label their prototypes. Students found it beneficial to draw BEFORE they built because they said it “helped them think things through.” Student teams quickly sketched 3 different prototypes before they started building. Once they were ready to build, they focused on the prototype that they believed would be the most successful. If their prototype did not work out as planned, they looked at their other 2 drawings and prototype options to revise or start over.

Students also tested their mobile as they built it to see what mobile would go the farthest. Some students blew into a straw that they attached to their mobile to make it move, while others used part of a straw that was unattached to blow air onto their mobile.

Day 2: Test Prototypes, Rebuild Prototype, Test again & Reflect (1 hour)

Students then traveled to the hallway with their prototypes for an official testing round. Each group was allowed to blow air to their mobile car 10 times to see the distance that it would travel. Students quickly learned by seeing their mobile and other teams in action what worked and what did not. After our testing round, students went back to the classroom and to the drawing board with numerous ideas to try.

Students then spent additional time brainstorming and rebuilding their prototypes so it could be retested again as a class.

 

After building and testing their final prototype, we gained even more insight to what the mobile needed to move faster; Students shared these findings with the class:

  • “The lighter the mobile is, the faster it moved.”
  • “We did better when we did not use as much tape and paper.”
  • “Ms. Welty’s mobile was shaped like an airplane and that helped it cut through air.”
  • “The straw was the engine, so it worked when the straw saw the air on both sides.”
  • “Most of the mobiles moved faster without the lifesaver wheels.”

The beautiful thing about this project is that students were engaged, empowered, and their wheels were constantly turning with ideas. I overheard one student calling himself an “inventor” because he found out that his mind was full of awesome ideas that he could put into action. We could have created more prototypes and students would have loved the opportunity of innovating once more.

Whether it is this lesson, or another STEM activity, give students opportunities like these to learn by DOING. Allowing students to be in the drivers seat of their own learning is powerful beyond words. Moreover, as an educator, it is a beautiful thing to see the creativity and spark that is born from students working together to create solutions.

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Be Their Diehard Fan

A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to their sports team, musical artist, author, or an entertainer. The best trait about a diehard fan is that no matter what happens, even during the weak points, in the end, that fan always give their team their full support, with the knowledge that it will all eventually fall into place. Some of us call this unwavering faith.

I believe that the best educators and leaders apply these same foundations to their classrooms. Great teachers are not fair-weather fans, and they are DIEHARD fans for their students. Great educators also believe that student behaviors, academic levels, or backgrounds will NEVER stop them from loving or fighting for their students just as hard. After all, when our students show signs of distress is usually the moment they need our cheers in the fan section the most.

While working alongside students and showing that I will never give up on them, students taught me more about life, resilience, strength, and love than I could have ever imagined. I am better because of their strength.


Isn’t it a beautiful thing that while we dedicate ourselves to become their fans, that they become our number one supporters, too?


Whether students have positive or negative behavior stats or have winning or losing records in school- Be their diehard fan. Even our most supported students need us in their fan section more than ever. You will have no greater of a fan than your students if you become their diehard fan FIRST.

A thoughtful card I received from a student.

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How to Strengthen Relationships with Students

Building relationships with our students and colleagues are THE most important work that we do as educators and leaders.  Taking the time and energy to strengthen relationships with kids will help them grow to be better individuals and learners. Moreover, human connection is THE essential piece in LIFE, not just the field of education.

But, my caveat is this: Do not try to “manage” kids, but instead INVEST in them. When you invest in students and their interests, talents, and skill sets, your return on the investment will always be greater and more rewarding. Whether you are a kid or an adult, everyone wants to feel genuinely cared about.  Therefore, you can never go wrong by devoting your spirit to those you serve.

Throughout the years of working with kids, here are some of the most meaningful pieces that I believe are crucial to enhancing the relationships that you create:

  • Be present

  • Greet and welcome every single student

  • Listen and value their different perspectives

  • Get to know more about their family, hobbies, and passions

  • Look at every student interaction with a non-judgemental lens

  • Let students start over with a fresh slate when mistakes happen

  • Never, ever give up on them

  • Show that you want to learn from them, too

  • Bring the strengths of every single student to the forefront

  • Empower students to lead and make a difference

  • Be true to you; It inspires kids to be true to themselves

  • Be fun; Never take yourself too seriously

Image result for rita pierson quotes
Image Credit: TED/PBS

Significant mention: When thinking of strengthening relationships with students, the above quote from the beloved Rita Pierson is the beacon of what we should all strive for. Even if you have already seen the TED Talk 1,000,000 times like me, share it with someone else to ignite the spark within them as well (Or watch it below!)

Whether you are reading this during your last few weeks of school, or next October, or in August of 2049- Relationships will always be paramount. Everything changes in life, but relationships are our constant. The year, the month, the season does not matter. What matters is that we never give up on our students and always find time to strengthen the connections we already have to help them become who they were destined to be.

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