What “gifts” will your students learn this year?

What “gifts” will your students learn this year?

What a gift our students would have if they learned to tackle problems with curiosity, joy, and confidence this year!

I learn everyday. I hope all of us do. Sometimes I am a frustrated learner, facing problems that require patience, creativity, and persistence to solve. I have to seek out help often.

One thing that pulls me through is that although I don’t have answers to all problems at my fingertips, I KNOW the answer to any problem is out there somewhere. I don’t mind searching to find it. I am thankful for the people in my life who have taught me that with the right resources, the right tools, we can do just about anything. Not everyone believes that problems can be solved–some people get stuck and stay there.

Recent learning experiences got me thinking…do we teach our students that there is a solution to just about every problem? Do we teach them about all the resources out there? They know about YouTube, but do they know the value of talking problems out with people they trust? Do they know persistence and creativity?

What a gift our students would have if they learned to tackle problems with curiosity, joy, and confidence this year!

What “gifts” will you focus on teaching your students this year?

Image credit:  http://cdn.www.ministry-to-children.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/gift-box.jpg



The Communication Balance: brutal honesty or wimpy empathy?

The Communication Balance: brutal honesty or wimpy empathy?

I thought I was being kind. I thought I was empathetic. I thought I was helping my students, teachers, and parents by sandwiching my real message inside positive feedback. When giving feedback that was going to be hard to hear, I would dance around the message, hoping that would make the information easier to take. Hoping that the message would still be heard.

I think deep inside somewhere I knew that I was being a wimp. I didn’t accept that fact until I was faced with it during a conversation with my boss where I was given some feedback that was difficult to take.

She told me that I needed to work on being clear and timely with feedback, whether positive or negative. She told me that I was actually being selfish by skirting around the truth, hoping the real message came through. She told me that I cared more about my feelings, about not making myself uncomfortable during a conversation, than being truthful. She told me that I was not being helpful, I was leaving them with mixed messages and robbing them of an opportunity for growth. She told me that our students deserved better than that.

It hurt so bad to hear that. And it hurt because she was right.

Since that difficult conversation years ago, I have worked to push through my hesitancy to say things that may be difficult to hear. I have stopped using the “sandwich” method because I realized that when I used that, every time I would share positive feedback, teachers were not really listening–instead they were bracing themselves for the other shoe to drop. My goal is to be a clear communicator while being understanding and empathetic. I want to have great relationships based on mutual respect and trust, without fear in the environment.

I have watched many leaders be successful in this careful balance of communicating in a way that promotes continuous growth and positive relationships. I have found that most err on one side or the other–some are too brutally honest and have to work on being empathetic, others are too empathetic and have to focus on being clear and honest. We share the goals of being clear with communication, focused on what our students need and deserve, while supporting each other.

I picture an old-fashioned scale, with brutal honesty on one side and relationship-focused communication on the other. I continuously work to get more balanced, and the best advice I can share is to have a focus on what our students deserve, in every conversation. What side do you fall on with your communication, and what do you do to work toward that perfect balance?

Image credit: https://melaniekillingervowell.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/scales-of-justice-tipped.png

Innovation doesn’t have to be complex: an idea for practice/review

Innovation doesn’t have to be complex: an idea for practice/review

How can I learn about my students and help them review concepts in a way that is engaging, empowering, and helps them build relationships?

Help students review and practice while observing students’ skills as formative assessment by using a technique called “Answers Around the Room”. Students complete a worksheet-type practice set, and the answers to the problems are posted around the classroom. The students complete a problem and then get up to find the answer. If they cannot find the correct answer, they can find their mistake or ask a friend or the teacher for help.

This simple “hack” for a worksheet gets students moving, creates natural breaks in the work, encourages them to support each others’ learning, and is much more need-satisfying for students than to silently complete a worksheet in a traditional way.

Think of ways you could extend the activity to make it even more fun and meaningful:

  • Students could get a “clue” with each problem that helps them solve a puzzle
  • Post a “get to know you” question on each answer and students ask different classmates after every correct answer.

Keep it simple or stretch your imagination and creativity–the sky is the limit and your students will love it!

(I observed this technique in the classroom of @MissWells113. Her students were so engaged and LOVED practicing this way.)


Turns out I am a hypocrite, superficial, and a fool

Turns out I am a hypocrite, superficial, and a fool

We were a week into our move and knee-deep into renovations. We survived many near-disasters like skimming the top of the well with our trailer and almost sinking that very same trailer into the sand. We were exhausted and a bit testy while working on the bathroom.

Suddenly we heard bam, bam, bam against the window of the dining area. I rushed to find out what was happening, and saw that we were being attacked by a horde of hornets. There was a very large hornets’ nest right above the front door. And the kids were outside. Not just my kids, my niece also. If I had to take her to the hospital after getting attacked by hornets, my brother would never talk to us again.

I thought this moving to the woods thing would make me feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods. Not like a crazed suburban mom being attacked by nature. Thus far, life in the woods taught me that I am a hypocrite, superficial, and a fool.

Welcome to your new home, Allyson.

Months before our move, my husband and I decided to look for a smaller home with some land in order to slow down a bit, take a step back from the rat race, and change our lifestyle. We wanted more family time, to help our boys expand their interests, and space to store our toys. We quickly sold our house after listing it and went about trying to find a new house that met our criteria. We found a house that fit the bill, on five wooded acres, with a long, twisting driveway. It was smaller but still allowed room for everything we wanted. Plus, it had an amazing three-season porch. Bonus!

It was a bit older than our current house and we knew we would make changes before we moved in to update it and make it work for us. Despite this, we were confident that this was our new home.

We got possession of the new house one week before we had to be out of our old house. We thought that would be plenty of time to do the flooring and painting on the entire main level. My husband and I stink at painting, so we hired a friend to paint for us. We decided to install the flooring ourselves. On day one of possession we ripped out the old flooring with the help of family, while we unloaded the first trailer of our stuff into the garage. The moving and renovations continued for the next two weeks.

I can look back on the past couple weeks now and smile, but I was not smiling much during the transition. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was constantly uncomfortable, teary, and overwhelmed. I have always lived in a neighborhood. Whenever we have moved in the past, we were always moving “up” to the next step. We have never renovated and moved at the same time. I cried when I was putting away my toiletries, missing my old enormous bathroom. I cried when faced with mold, dead things in the wall, a million staples to pull up, and just about every other challenge those first few days. It seemed like every time we picked our exhausted heads up from our current task, we faced a new dilemma. And they were situations we had never encountered, so we had no prior knowledge to draw upon. And did I mention that we were exhausted? That they were hornets everywhere and dead things in the walls?

I can think of a bunch of excuses for myself, but the bottom line is that I fell into a funk and I had a hard time seeing my way out of the funk. I liken it to that period of time after you have a baby, or after a surgery, where you feel out of sorts and that life will never get back to ‘normal’ again. It was yucky. When I had a moment, I would reread my blog to recall the words I had written about situations like this. That helped. I would ask my husband to tell me that we can solve any problem that comes our way. That helped. I would not give into the funk even though it was persistent. And now, I have seen my way out of the darkness and can look back at all I have learned. Here are just a few of those things:

I am a hypocrite. I fully admit that. I am not positive 100% of the time, I do not look for solutions immediately every time I encounter a problem. I have my moments and sometimes my days, but I do not give into them. I fight them tooth and nail because I want to lead a life that uplifts others. I want to be sunshine rather than a burden. It takes work, but the people I love are worth the work. They deserve my best. I don’t mind having to work to practice what I preach because it helps me be empathetic and to realize that I don’t always know what is going on behind the scenes.

I am superficial. That is hard to admit, but, honestly, I think everyone is to some extent. I do not let what others might think stop me from doing what is right for me or my family, but I do think about it. I wonder what people might think when they walk up to our little house in the woods after they have visited our big house in the fancy neighborhood. Maybe they will read this blog first and understand why we made this type of move. Maybe they won’t. Most likely they will talk about it behind my back rather than to my face, so I won’t worry too much about this one. What we don’t know doesn’t hurt us, right?

I am a fool. And, you do use what you learned in math class later in life. I have felt so incompetent throughout the renovation process. There are many things that I don’t feel confident doing that my husband can finish in two-seconds flat. I guess that is part of the reason we make a good team. One thing I am really really good at is shopping. I know, I know, hold your spontaneous applause. It is a gift I was born with, and I do not take it for granted. I have visited many home improvement stores the past couple weeks and one of my tasks was to purchase molding for the new flooring. This fool bought enough molding to cover the area rather than the perimeter of the rooms. Duh! I had a good laugh at myself over that one. No wonder the guy at the store raised an eyebrow when I told him how many feet of molding I needed.

This move taught me humility, taught me grit, and taught me that we can solve most any problem…or, at least my husband can. Life in the woods will continue to present us with unique challenges, but I know now that we can solve them together, supporting each other, laughing at our foolish mistakes, and enjoying a different kind of lifestyle. There is much yet to do, but it feels like home. I am so proud of what we have already accomplished.


Guess who was the only one to get stung by a hornet? You guessed it…my niece. Good thing it was just one sting and she’s a trooper!

Thank you to our family and friends for all the help! Special thanks to our painter and friend who turned out to also be a life-coach during my meltdowns.