Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pauline and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Last night I got home closer to 9pm than I wanted for the second night in a row, knowing I wouldn’t be home until the same time tonight because of parent/teacher conferences. Utterly drained, I went straight to bed, safe in the knowledge that I would get up at 5:30 am with plenty of time to wake my kids, feed them, prepare lunches, iron clothes, drop them off at kids club and arrive at school for my 7:30 am meeting. Today began with my husband shaking me awake with the news that the alarm had failed to go off and it was 7:10 am. And so began my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day.

In utter panic I jumped up, dragged my son out of bed and while toasting his frozen pancakes I texted a colleague to alert her to the fact that I wasn’t going to make my meeting and asked her to look out for a student who I had invited to join us. Her reply was: No worries! Scouring the clean laundry pile and pantry I threw together outfits and lunches, splashed my face with cold water and dragged my boy towards the car while shoving him into his coat. I don’t recall whether or not I brushed my hair!

As soon as I opened the garage I knew I was in danger of not making it in time for my first class of the day let alone my meeting. Of course it was snowing and the roads were a disaster. After twenty minutes I had traveled a total of two miles, experienced inertia first hand as my car resisted the brakes and drifted into oncoming traffic, and realized that I was utterly decaffeinated. Time to call for back up! Blearily negotiating the roads I called two of my 5/6 colleagues for assistance. Both were stuck in traffic but assured me that they would arrive ahead of me, organize my kids and get my first class up and running. I got to my son’s school relieved that my first class was covered but still rushed down the hallway to drop him safely at Kids Club. That’s when I epically wiped out. Both feet went up in the air and I landed flat on my back. Since my hip has been bothering me for the last two weeks this wasn’t the greatest thing that could have happened. In extreme pain I assured my kid I was okay and once he verified the fact that we were alone in the hallway, I took a moment to remain prostrate, lament my fortune and gather my thoughts about my scattered life.

I signed him in with a kiss goodbye and limped back to my car. I entered my class three minutes after the bell rang and my teaching partner Rick Joseph was there, with both of our classes, taking attendance and getting them set for the day. We arranged our special schedule, raided the fridge in the teacher lounge for a breakfast consisting of leftovers from the PTSA conference dinner the night before and had a great morning of learning. I introduced a cartoon activity I thought the students would be excited about and when one of them asked if he could do a Powerpoint version instead, I felt good about the fact that my kids feel comfortable negotiating with me about how they demonstrate their learning.

 During lunch I prepared guest teacher plans for tomorrow when I will continue conferences for my math students, and my 5/6 science partner Tammy Brown brought me back a much needed, heartwarming soup lunch!Conferences began at 1pm and at 3pm my partner had to head for the airport to present at the NCTE conference in Washington D.C. Happy for him to go and learn and grow, I was also sad to complete the evening without him as it’s always good to have my other half to bounce off during conferences. A wonderful dinner was provided for us by my principal and vice principal and I headed back to the final three hours of conferences reenergized, albeit nervous about the continuing snow fall, the state of the roads, and the fact I had no snowbrush with me to clean up my car. 

At 6pm a parent arrived late for her conference and was completely understanding of the fact that the full schedule meant I couldn’t fit her in without inconveniencing all my other appointments for the night. She left happy to reschedule and, I suspect, unaware of how truly appreciative I was of her flexibility. Throughout the rest of the night I was glad to share the successes and future goals of my students, and receive well wishes for my transition into my new role as instructional specialist. One of my last students of the night arrived with a cake he had made for me, and  I headed for the car park ready to deal with my inevitably snow buried car.To my amazement I found my truck free and clear of snow, in stark contrast to it’s neighbors. I can only imagine that someone had blessed me with a random act of kindness and cleared my car for me. It was such a relief at the end of a long day and permitted me to concentrate on getting home in time to kiss my own children goodnight.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when you work at Birmingham Covington School there really is no such thing as a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day. I am so lucky to work with an amazing team of educators who I can turn to in times of trauma and I know they have my back, no questions asked. They nurture and support me and I cannot express my gratitude for them enough. My students are total troopers and have the skills and maturity to bend and adapt to the flow of an unusual day. Their parents have the unique ability to make me feel like a super star and I am honored to know and serve them. My bucket overflows tonight as I check my alarm is set, and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Walking With Giants-Literally!

This weekend I was honored to walk with giants around Washington DC. The giants were thirty of my past and present students who were invited to present at the 2014 National Forum on Character Education.

The journey began last Thursday as we piled on to the bus at 5:30am. I was expecting a few moans and groans about the early take off, but was only met with eager and enthusiastic comments as we loaded suitcases, pillows, blankets and jewelry making equipment. The ten hour travel time flew by as we watched movies, chatted and played games and I was amazed since I’ve been on much shorter bus rides with students that seemed to last for eons!

Our first stop was the Air Force Memorial which seemed so fitting as the purpose is to show pride in our past and faith in our future. The monument itself soars 270 feet high and I was so moved to be there in the presence of students who have learned how to soar themselves. Etched on granite walls are the three core values of the Air Force.: Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do. I read aloud the following quote on the wall: The future is always decided by those who put their imagination to work, who challenge the unknown, and who are not afraid to risk failure.An eighth grade student standing next to me said, “That’s us Mrs. Roberts isn’t it?” That was the first of many teary moments I had in the presence of these giants over the next few days.

 Walking into the conference hotel at 7am on Saturday morning heading a group of thirty children caused quite a stir. As people stopped and stared at us I saw my students shoulders go back and their chins go up. They realized for the first time the true significance of their presence there and they immediately adopted a demeanor that they maintained throughout the remainder of the trip. They were proud to be invited, to share their incredible story, promote their project and to represent their school, which they did impeccably. They set up their booth with no adult direction or assistance and began to engage passing adults and making jewelry to sell. As each team rotated through their booth shift I was amazed at how well they articulated their passion and commitment.

I hope this Halloween stands out in their memories as much as it will stand out in mine. Dressed in their costumes we embarked on a nighttime tour of the war memorials and the Lincoln memorial and they managed to remain respectful, deferential and deeply interested in what the tour guide was telling us. So many of them during that tour thanked me for the opportunity and told me how glad they were that they gave up their usual trick or treating routine to be there.

The next day, despite being tired they were outstanding during their presentation. They so eloquently demonstrated to other teachers what is possible when teachers get out of the way and let students explore their passions and curiosities and allow them to fail forward. Feedback from attendees included:

"Empower and trust the students! Fail Forward! Outstanding, Meaningful, and all around Inspiring!"

"Each of you did a great job presenting. I'm inspired to listen to my students and step back to follow their lead."

"I want to make our service learning more meaningful. You guys are awesome!"

The students' own reflections included:

"In Washington I learned that our project is not only raising money for Chilipula, but showing the world that no project is too big for kids." Vivian, 6th grader.
" I learned what can happen when a group comes together for a good cause. I learned that sometimes kids can do things that adults can't, and we should all step up to that." Helen, 7th grader.

"If you give students a voice through a meaningful project they will each become a leader in their own way." Jake, 6th grader.

I can honestly say I have never been prouder as an educator! Despite the fact that this group consisted of 3-8 graders, some of whom had never really met before, they bonded together in their dedication to Project Cope. For me personally, it was a joy to bring together past and present students and be able to see how much they have learned and grown. Their true character was reflected in the way they interacted with each other and the attendees of the conference. There were too many examples of kindness, perseverance, integrity, honesty and responsibility for me to mention but I will treasure every one.

This trip would not have been possible without the support of the BCS PTSA and the Birmingham Education Foundation (BEF). Their financial support made it possible for all our students to participate in this incredible learning experience. When asked for our students to present at the national forum they never imagined we would bring 30!

A special thanks to the parents and staff members who chaperoned this trip. The logistics involved in navigating a group of 30 middle schoolers through a two day national conference was overwhelming but their willingness to do whatever it takes and ability to support one another is what makes BCS such a great place to be.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Tamra Nast our school counselor who worked tirelessly with Cindy Balicki to make this opportunity a reality for our students. Principal Mark Morawski thank you for supporting the trip and Linda Stone , and Mat Brown thank you for joining us and being amazing colleagues that I am lucky to work with every day.

The theme of the conference was inspiring greatness. These giants, these students, inspire me every day. Who inspires you? More importantly, how do you inspire others?