Bag of Bricks

Brick, Stone, Material, Pile Of Bricks

When students walk through the door of the school we tend to put them into a mold.  We push them. We stuff them. We stand on the mold hoping to make it fit.  Even if the mold won’t close completely if we can just get them close to fitting we can make it work.

But…. all students don’t fit the mold.  They all have their own mold.  The mold life has given them.  The mold that we have to work with.  A mold that doesn’t resemble ours. The mold we grew up with. The mold that we are used to. The mold that makes our job easy, because its the one we are comfortable working in.

And… then you have to work with the mold that is full of bricks.

All students come to school with bricks in their backpacks.  Some students have one brick and other students have many bricks.  We then ask them to drop their bricks and start learning. Learning the way we teach. The way we are comfortable, but they can’t drop the bricks they just hold onto them as we add more.

But the bricks….

What are the bricks?

The bricks are all the “stuff” a kiddo deals with that we have no idea even exists.

Its the cold house because there is no heat.

Its the hope that when they get home there will be food on the table.

Its the way they have to be mom and dad.

Its that they sit alone at the table during lunch.

Its the test that they failed that they really did study hard for, still didn’t pass, and no one believes them.

Its the words spoken to them just before they walk into your class.

Its the way they are trying to figure out life and things just don’t seem to be fitting into place.

It is their insecurities.

The bricks are the “excuses” we don’t want to hear, but they scream at us through data and grades.

What can we do as educators? We can help them carry their bricks.  We can lighten their load while still keeping high expectations.

How? Take them out of the mold. Work with them where they are. Work with them not against them. Find out how they learn and change your way of teaching to help them understand and a brick will be lifted.  Make your room a room where mistakes happen and are ok because it means we are learning. Make your room a place where they run to it because they know you are on their team. Make your room the one classroom that they don’t even remember they have bricks.

We as educators need to carry their bricks for them. We need to hold them from 8:00 to 3:30 letting them feel free. Free to learn. Free to be a kid. Free to become what they want to be not what their journey has set them up to be.

As the new semester starts in a few days take a brick from your students and replace it with wings, and watch them soar. They will begin to create their own path building it with the bricks that use to hold them down!






sea-595594_1920It is SUMMER and just like that it is August….

Kids are buying school supplies. Parents are checking off the days for the first day. Kids are wondering where they will sit.  If they will have any new students in their class.

Teachers are trying to not think about anything at all related to school, because we have a few weeks or maybe just a few days left before we “have” to start thinking about school.

But it happens..  Every time we try to NOT think about it we begin to wonder.  Is my room clean yet?  How will I arrange my desks?  What will my schedule look like?  When will we meet to do recess schedules? When will we start Reading Block?

We are all at this moment, in the last few moments of summer…. Wondering. Planning. Plotting the best course as we set sail on a new school year.  But what about the days, the moments, the things that will take us on an adventure we didn’t see coming.

When we go ADRIFT!

This summer my husband and I went to the movie, “Adrift”. They had set sail.  The ocean was their friend taking them on an adventure. They had it all mapped out.  How long it would take? How much food they would need? The exact route that would be the perfect plan.  They had all the tools they would need to make sure that they got from Point A to Point B perfectly.

Then life happened, and all the “perfect” plans were gone in an instant. What they had planned would now not work.  Nothing was the same.  There was no plan.  They had to rely on their skills.  They had to rely on what they new in their core.

As I think of a new school year quickly approaching I think of how much that movie parallels to a school year.

We will go off course. We will go adrift. Things will not go exactly as planned.  Make sure to always remember that plan #2 sometimes works out for the best.  We learn from the new course.  If we allow ourselves we will grow in the new route.  We will not only grow as an eduator, but chances are we will grow as a person.

I have been working on a new “course” that life has given me the last few weeks, and after talking to a mentor the ocean didn’t seem so big.  The plan I had made wasn’t the best route, but the plan mixed with his advice seemed to perfectly fit what I needed.  Then as I began to take off on the new plan and “course” he sent me a word via text that has become my new motto for the upcoming year.

One word…. #believe!

See the “course” ahead.  Know that it will change.  You will go adrift. It will change again, but never forget to #believe that if you stick to the final goal and your core beliefs no matter the “course” you will get there and it will probably be a better end than you could have imagined!

Have a great school year!


The Last Months, An Empty Tank, and Play-doh!


As each school year comes to a close I begin to reflect on the last year… Did I empty my teaching tank?

When looking back over the year I ask myself a few questions:

Did I do enough?

As a veteran teacher I know there were years, days, hours, etc. I didn’t give enough. I didn’t do enough because well…. life happened.  Things came up in my life that just took the top step to teaching.  This school year my son had eye surgery, my dad had many doctors appointments to help save his eye sight, and my mom was hospitalized which in turn took time for more doctor’s appointments.  These are not excuses they are life.  They are the hard things that happened outside the walls of my school but affected what happened inside the walls of my school.  They aren’t excuses… like I said they are just life.

But as educators we sometimes forget that those “things” happen to our kiddos outside the walls of the school that also affect what happens inside the walls of the school for students also.  We expect them to leave their bricks at the door of the school and perform at their best ability all the time.

When life happened for me this year my students helped me carry the bricks.  They said things such as, “Mrs. Smith I hope Parker’s eye appointment goes great! I hope he gets good news. Is your mom ok now? Did her appointment go good?”  They made my load easier not heavier.  Do the same for your kiddos?

Did I leave a students wondering?

As the year draws to a close I hope that I didn’t leave students wondering if they mattered beyond the whiteboard. If they knew they were more than just a test score.

An example of this happened over the weekend……

It is graduation season for everyone.  If you are a teacher you have received multiple graduation invites which equals multiple plates of food.  My family was attending the second of the three or four receptions we had been invited to on Friday evening.  You always enter them thinking, “Ok.. I need to pace myself. Don’t eat a full meal here just a little at each one!” Well I once again hadn’t paced myself good enough at the first reception, so by the time we got to the second one I was already “stuffed”! But I knew their was a little girl that was going to ask me on Monday in the fourth grade room if I liked her mom’s cake. You see she talked about this dreamy cake all day in school Friday, “Mrs. Smith when you get to Johnny’s reception make sure you eat the cake, because my mom made it and she makes all the cakes for our family’s parties and they are SOOOO good!” I was stuffed. I was overflowing and I had no room for one bite of cake.

But I couldn’t leave her wondering…. I made room for a few bites of cake! I made sure when she came into the classroom on Monday morning I could say without a doubt that she was right… Her momma’s cake rocked!

Don’t leave them wondering if they matter… make them important beyond the whiteboard. Make sure you know how good the cake really is!

Did I give them the tools they needed to succeed?

This week as I was walking in the early morning I had this thought…

Teaching isn’t work. It isn’t a job. It isn’t a place you have to go. Teaching is the gift you have to help lead or shape a student into becoming what they will later share with the world! Don’t let your play-doh go dry….. never give up on the masterpiece!

As a teacher it is our given right that each day as we walk into those walls that we give all we can to our students and when they aren’t with us that we do all we can to improve ourselves so that in turn we can improve the future for those kiddos.

You see it is just like play-doh.  If you treat it right, you work with it, and changing things as you go because what you were doing just wasn’t working out, but most importantly never giving up; in the end you will have your biggest and best masterpiece.  Not because you are the next Picasso, but because you gave it your all and never said it wasn’t possible! You created something the world had no idea it needed, but someone, somewhere will be changed because of what you have helped create.

As this school year ends, take sometime to reflect on the kiddos that were a masterpiece as they walked out of your door for the last time. AND if you are anything like me you will realize that the real masterpiece was created by the students… how they changed you, how they never gave up on you, and how you became their masterpiece for next year’s students!

Have a GREAT summer and be ready for your new play-doh soon!


Hope is Sometimes All They Need…



A word that takes us from never to maybe. From I don’t think it is is possible to wait it might happen.

We have all been given hope whether it was in our childhood in waiting for a promise to come true. In our teenage years, hoping we make varsity to that we studied hard enough to get that needed score on the ACT or SAT to hopefully making it into the school we have always seen ourselves at.  Then came college and the hopes of our future.

As you can see, we all live with hope everyday, but it is the people behind us that tend to give us the hope we need.  They are the driving force that keeps us believing in the hope.  As adults we get that hope and internalize it and remind ourselves that we can persevere and keep going, keep working toward the goal, keep believing.

What about the kids in our rooms…

When I took my first job I did just that.. took my first job.  I wish I would have known then what I know now.  I wish I would have given the kids more hope, more compassion, more understanding.

Fast forward…

Kids come into the school each day at 7:40. They head up the stairs to my room. They look to me to guide them through their days, but I guide them differently today than when those first students came in years ago.

Some students come into my room these day needing more than an education. They are needing HOPE. They need more than the ability to become fluent in their multiplication facts.  They need to know that their is hope.  Hope that they will get those facts. Hope that they will understand how to differentiate a noun, verb, adjective and adverb.


They need hope that it is going to be ok.  That even if mom doesn’t come home it will all work out. That if dad doesn’t find a job soon they will still get to sleep in their room. That if mom can’t take care of them anymore that when they move to dad’s that they will meet new friends and their teacher will love them with all her heart.

That if the worst happens they still have HOPE…. 

There are so many ways that students walk into your room each and every day looking for hope in your eyes.  Looking for a small bit of compassion through your words, actions, and tone.  These things bring hope to kids.  That fist bump in the hall says, “I remember.” That when you say you want to hear your story, but not right now that you go back and hear that story. That you will notice when they succeed at the small things in class and not just the “stuff” you as the teacher see as important.  That when they work hard and finally get a passing score or even an A on your quiz or test you notice, because life has been hard so hard for them that the words, “I am proud of you!” mean for than winning the lottery. That you notice when they come into a the room with something new or different. That what they do matters.  That relationship building with students is more than just that, it is the beginning of students believing they are more than a name in a grade book. That they matter to you. That you HOPE for the best for them!

Be the light of HOPE…

These may seem small. These may seem like an elementary thing… high school kids don’t need that. But that is where we are all wrong in education. All kids need hope just like we as adults need to hang onto hope, but we can’t do it alone and neither can they.  They need us to be that Merchant of Hope, as Jimmy Casas speaks of in his book Culturize, in a world that likes to focus on the negative.  They look to you because you spend the majority of their awake time with them.  They need you to get it, as much as you want them to “get it” when you give them an assignment.  They need you to understand, have some compassion that when you are teaching them that they want to do it but at that moment it might not be their biggest concern.

Give them the hope that it will work out.  Give them the hope that no matter when and what the world throws at them that they can look to you and know that it is all going to be ok.

Always remember to look at the big picture…. Kids are just like teachers.  We have good days and bad days. We have joys and sadness.  We have to maneuver through it.  Just like students. They only difference is that we were guided through the dark days by a Merchant of Hope our Champion.  Be that Merchant of Hope,that champion for a student so 20 years from now they will remember that moment, smile, have HOPE and NEVER GIVE UP!





Why share? Why let them in?


I have not always been an open book with my students. I use to be the teacher that was just Mrs. Smith in the classroom. The “I am the teacher, teacher!” They didn’t need to know about me. All they needed to know was that I was Mrs. Smith and they needed to know the curriculum only.

Then I changed….

I can’t tell you when I changed.  I can’t tell you what made me change.  Maybe it was just years of teaching.  Maybe it was a student that I missed getting to know.  Maybe it was losing a student to an RV fire.  I can’t really pinpoint it…. I just know I changed, and definitely my change is for the better.

I am real now…..

I am now an open book with my students. When I say “Open Book” I don’t mean tell them EVERYTHING about my life, but I now find value in sharing my core, myself, the what and who that make me, well ME.  I start the year with a Kahoot about Mrs. Smith.  It isn’t a quiz about rules, procedures,etc.  This quiz is about my favorite color, my favorite pop, how many brothers and sisters I have, etc. I let them in.  I tell them when I am tired. I tell them when my patience may not be as big as usual.  I tell them when I have had a rough night.  I tell them when I don’t get my run in. I tell them when I am so excited about something in my life I am about to BURST!

But it doesn’t stop there, sharing is a routine…..

Every Monday morning at the start of my Reading Block we talk about our weekends. We share for 15 minutes about the great things that happened to us outside of the school walls. We talk about their basketball games, their birthday parties, their trips to Kearney to Wal-Mart for cheap, discounted Easter candy.  I share when I am busy and everything I did with my family.  I share when I stay home and just clean my house. I share when all I did was sleep in and do laundry.

Sometimes we share on random days one positive thing that happened to them from 3:30 to when they got to school the next morning.  AND sometimes they ask me if we can share something about or nights. Something they just can’t wait to tell me. Something that makes them tick. Something that makes them happy… How could I ever say no we don’t have time to share! We always have time to share joy!

Why does that matter……

Let me tell you why!  I am that teacher that always tells my students when I am going to be gone.  I am that teacher that tells them who will be “me” the next day.  I prepare them for what life is going to throw them, through me.  I want to know if change is coming in life, so why wouldn’t I try to prepare my students.  When we know things are going to be different we can prepare for that.  We can change the things we need and keep the things we need the same. We can prepare!

Then sometimes change comes without warning….

When I got home from school Thursday night I got a call from my mom.  She said that she had chest pains, had taken a Nitro pill, and my aunt was on her way to take her to the ER.  I instantly jumped in my car and drove the 30 minutes to the hospital.  They admitted her to observe her and find the source of the chest pain.  I was planning on going to school the next day, as she said she didn’t need me there.  As I was getting ready to leave she looked at me and said, “If it wouldn’t inconvenience you or school to much I would like it if you could be here tomorrow.” So that became my plan… to be with the one who had given so much of herself to me.

I left the hospital and traveled back home 30 minutes to pack and plan for school.  I went to the school around midnight, organized my kiddos days as best I could, and left again for the hospital.

I left them without warning, because sometimes change doesn’t tell any of us that it is coming.

Fast forward 24 hours….

My mom is being released from the hospital.  My family stops at Wal-Mart to pick up a few things before heading home.  As I am walking around I notice one of my students with his family.  I walk up and tap him on the shoulder.  He turns and looks up at me with concern and says, “Where were you today? You didn’t tell us you weren’t going to be there. I missed you!”  I look at him with honest eyes and say, “My mom was in the hospital and she needed me to be with her.” He looks with greater concern and says, “I missed you, but is she ok?”  I tell him that she is on her way home and thank him for asking.  He then says, “So you will be there Monday?” I tell him that I plan to!

Why is this significant…..

Sharing you make you real.  It makes you a person to them.  They grow to care for you the way you care for them.  When a person in your family is hurting you hurt.  When a family member succeeds you celebrate with them. When a family member is gone you miss having them around!

When a family grows together they learn so much more about life, and when that family is a classroom the learning that takes place is so much more than the academics.  They learn to care about each other through your example. They learn that hurt happens.  We miss each other when we aren’t around, but when you finally see each other at Wal-Mart the day gets brighter because you know all is well with the world when all is well with the family!

Make your room at school more than a room.  Make it a home, where it is best when everyone in the family is there, happy, caring, growing and learning together! Let them in. Let them know you. Let them care about you beyond the whiteboard!

Because the eyes looking up at you at Wal-Mart just might be saying all the things that your heart needed to hear after a stressful 24 hours….. Life is better because you are in it!

Knowing vs. Understanding


In education we always tell students to never stop learning…. and boy did I learn something HUGE from a simple sentence a few weeks ago.

Recently, I read a blog from an administrator where he stated something similar to this… There is a big difference between knowing and understanding.  This really got me thinking about my teaching through the years up to now.  It made me stop in my tracks and evaluate myself.  Are my students just knowing or are they really understanding? What is more important?  That they know the information. That they understand the information. That they both know and understand the information.

So I took that challenge and started to change some of the ways I approach learning with my students because one should… Never Stop Learning!

I decided that real learning is when you know the concept, but yet understand it enough that you can teach it too.

In the past few weeks I have been doing the “usual” teacher thing, answering questions my students have, but with a small twist.  As I answer a student’s question and move on, when the same question is asked I don’t answer it. I know strange right, not answering student questions.  This is where the change came in my teaching. I ask the student I just helped to come over, and I watch, listen, and guide as they explain to their friend how to know and understand the question.

What I have found is that true understanding comes from knowing. It has been interesting to watch them teach each other. It has been interesting to hear my teaching through them. It has been interesting to see them confidently stand and go to their friend in need.

Game changer for sure, but the learning didn’t stop there… I began to ponder myself as a teacher.

I always ask myself am I doing enough for each of them.  I am I really “getting” them the way they need me too.  Am I understanding them where they are or am I asking them to understand where I want them to learn?  Am I really understanding them or do I just know them?

These questions really got me pondering so much more than teaching… 

We as educators are always asking students to KNOW the information.  We are always asking them it they UNDERSTAND the information.  But….

Do we just KNOW our students or do we really UNDERSTAND our students?

I began to think of the 13 darlings I get to spend my days with Monday through Friday.  I thought about the parts of their lives I know about but don’t understand.  I thought about the moments I missed learning to understand them and not just know them.  I thought about how important each moment is….

As their teacher I get to spend many moments with them, but with that comes a huge unknown. The moments I miss. The moments I don’t know about. The moments that can make their day do a 180, not because I am not watching but because I am not there, so I don’t understand.

As my students walk the halls and spend time at recess, as much as I try to not let things happen, things are said and done.  Things that hurt a kid to their core. Things that change their perception of themselves. Things that play over and over in their heads while I am asking them to KNOW and UNDERSTAND.

As my students walk out the doors to go home, I don’t KNOW how their nights and weekends will go.  I don’t KNOW what battles their families are fighting.  I don’t know what “baggage” they will carry with them when they walk back through the doors the next morning or on Monday morning.

BUT… I can be better, much better at not just knowing or understanding them, but knowing how to understand them!

I can understand that I need to make my patience a little higher, because Sally had to go to her mom’s house this weekend and she loves both her parents so much that it hurts to be away from either of them.  She wants to master her math facts but she just misses her old life.

I can understand that math is not the most important thing for Johnny, because his buddies just made fun of his new shoes in the hall that his momma spent her paycheck on because the tape wasn’t holding them together anymore. Johnny wants to read those words but all he hears is the kids laughing at him.

I can understand that Suzy needs a little more understanding with her homework and late work, because she had to get her siblings to school this morning because mom and dad were at the hospital again. Suzy wants to be at school. Life is easier there, but home needs her more right now.

I can understand that Freddy is acting out because he can’t tell me that he misses his mommy, because he doesn’t know how to put into words how he is even feeling. He just knows if he acts out I will notice him and I will give him some attention that he craves.. good or bad.

I can understand that not all kids come to school with the same background, the same love, the same homes, carrying the same weight in their backpacks, but they all come to school with the same desire to be successful. It’s just the moments we miss that make that hard sometimes.

But not impossible…

What I can do is KNOW that I need to UNDERSTAND that all kids come to school wanting to learn. Every single one of them wants to be successful. It is just the “stuff” that they carry into our classrooms from the bus or car ride, the walk through the halls, or even the night before.  The circumstances that they can’t control that control their ability to KNOW and UNDERSTAND what I am teaching them.

I can control how I respond to Sally, Johnny, Suzy, and Freddy. AND it is in that moment,  that small moment, that I can control how they know and truly understand what I am teaching them… the academic concepts and the concept of you matter.  You matter more than the math book, but we will together learn! You matter and your learning will be successful, because I may not have your baggage, but I WILL help you carry it at school.

Teach your students to never stop knowing, understanding, and learning, and in turn NEVER stop learning, knowing, and understanding your students. They deserve it!





Model What You Want… Get What You Model… And don’t forget about Spaghetti!


Spaghetti…. Do you like it or Do you have an extreme dislike for it?

We will get back to spaghetti in a minute!

As a veteran teacher of 20 + years I have always told my colleagues that the minute I stop progressing is the minute I find something new or put in my retirement papers.  This attitude isn’t one that I came up with myself.  It is an attitude learned from a former colleague and friend that had been teaching longer than I had been alive when we first started to teach together!

Get What You Model…

When I first met Mrs. Freeman she was a friend of my husband’s family and a teacher at the local school.  At the time I was teaching in a nearby town, and had just begun my career.  Then a few years down the road a First Grade position in our town, Mrs. Freeman’s school, so I quickly put in an application!  And just like that I was now not just a family friend but a colleague of Mrs. Freeman’s.

Model What You Want….

As I started to work with Mrs. Freeman I began to notice she wasn’t your
normal, run-of-the-mill veteran teacher. There was something different about her.  Something that I needed to watch and learn from.

Mrs. Freeman was the first to school in the mornings, and left not soon after the teacher bell rang as she worked at the local convenience store at night.  It wasn’t because she had too for the money….  No, I believe in my heart is was way more than just something to do. It was a way for her to make sure her “kids”, old and new, were doing okay.  She would chat with them about how things were going and would make sure the kiddos that came in, I believe just to see Mrs. Freeman also, knew she cared! She was building a relationship with her new kiddos, and maintaining the relationships she had already formed with her “old” kiddos.

Then I saw something in her that I hadn’t seen in any veteran teacher I had worked with or been taught by, and it stuck.  It made me open my eyes wider. It made me “sit up, watch, and learn”. It was big. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t the NORM!

Model What You Want…

You see in Nebraska, back when State Standards first came out, Fourth Grade was one of the few years that students were assessed. And by assessed I don’t mean just one test….. ALL THE STANDARDS WERE ASSESSED IN FOURTH GRADE! Mrs. Freeman met the challenge head on and dug into the standards, breaking them apart, putting them back together, aligning them with her curriculum, and then curriculum mapping to make sure she was preparing students for what they were going to face.  She knew they were counting on her. She knew they needed her best effort, so she gave it all she had and more. Not for herself, but for the kids.

As we grew closer as colleagues, she began to ask me about some of the “stuff” I was doing in First Grade. She had seen some of the “stuff” and thought it might be something she would like to “try”. She came in and watched. She had me come and teach a lesson to her class so she could see things implemented at her level. She asked questions. She tried new things, and WHY?

Remember, Mrs. Freeman had been teaching longer than I had been alive! And she wanted to learn. She wanted to be more. She wanted more for her kids.  She wanted to give the best at all times. She was one of the most progressive, non-complaining, do what’s best for kids teacher I have had the privilege to work with.

Was she the best all the time… Probably not. But when she didn’t think she had done her best she didn’t settle.  She dug deep and worked harder.  Every child learned.

She truly was and modeled… Every Child. Every Day. Find A Way!

Get What You Model…

So how does that lead to me… How? That is where I learned the attitude of, “Give It All, All the Time!”

I learned from Mrs. Freeman that the attitude and excitement and work ethic you model for your students will be what you get back from kids.

If you want students to turn work in on time… Get papers graded and back on time.

If you want them to be excited about school… Be PUMPED as they walk in the room. Each moment of everyday.

If you want kids to respect you…. Respect their lives, in and out of school. Respect their time. Respect who they are not who we wish they would be. Respect is earned not demanded, both ways.

If you want kids to trust you… Make mistakes something normal, something that happens to you. Say sorry when you need to. Say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” if you don’t. Make yourself human and a team with them not “I am the TEACHER!”

If you want kids to love your room…. Love your room! Love your job! Be excited. Be enthusiastic. Make them believe what you have to teach them is FAR from routine. Love being at school, so they love coming!

And most of all…

If you want kids to care about your subject matter….. You need to care about their subject matter.  Not their grades. Not their assignment. Not their test scores.  Not their homework.  You need to care about the things that matter to them.  You need to make a connection……..

I have a student this year that is SUPER quiet.  I mean NEVER talks in anything but a whisper.  I made it my goal to connect with this student.

One day this student had a question in math… As I approached this student to answer the question I got down on her level next to her and said, “Before I answer your question you have to answer a question for me.” She looked at me very cautiously and whispers, “Okay?’  I then asked the student what her favorite food was.  She looked at me like I was a crazy teacher and answers, “Spaghetti.”  I proceed say, “Guess what?  I can’t stand spaghetti!” She says in her tiny whisper, “That’s funny. Everyone loves spaghetti!”  From that moment on whenever the announcements say we are having spaghetti she yells, “You aren’t eating today are you Mrs. Smith!” and I reply back, “You got it girlfriend!  I can’t stand that stuff!”

One moment… Not even a minute and a connection was made.  She found out I cared more than that question. More than that assignment.  I wanted to know her! She mattered and I cared!

Back to Mrs. Freeman… I thank her for modeling what I needed! I thank her for showing kids that she cared enough to face the tough parts of teaching, so in turn the kids dug in and faced the hard parts of school.  I thank her for showing me that you have to care.

Because sometimes all it takes is an extreme dislike of spaghetti to let a student know…. Every student. Every day. Find a way!