Tuesday, 15 January 2019

What time do we really have? A #TeacherMyth blog prompt

After being challenged by Aaron Hogan (@aaron_hogan) during a #TeacherMyth chat last Tuesday to write a reflection about finding time to write, I have spent a lot of time being more aware and intentional about how my time is being used.

Here is what I have discovered:

I have responsibilities, duties, situations and things that I love in my life that take up much of my time...

  • My 3 kids who need loving
  • A husband who currently works away (yikes)
  • A full time job that I love
  • A house that needs maintaining
  • A yard that needs working
  • Friends who need me/who I need
  • Family who need me/who I need
  • Meals that need making
  • A body that needs to be exercised
  • Coffee that needs drinking
  • Dishes that need washing
  • Books that need reading
  • Laundry that needs folding/beds that need making
  • Board games that need playing
  • Social media accounts that I like maintaining
  • Snow that needs shovelling/leaves that need raking
  • "The Bachelor" that needs watching (yes, needs...)
  • And hopefully soon, a dog that needs walking
That's quite the list! (Side note: We have been on a path of "minimalism" for several years in our family. Less clutter, less stuff in both our minds and in our home has been freeing and IS what has allowed me to even start a blog in the past 18 months! I am proud of this list and how many things are NOT on it...)

I also have times to write and reflect:
  • In the morning before the kids get up
  • At night after the kids go to bed
With the list of needs/wants for my time, I have realized this week that my days are jam packed. It has made me realize that I don't stop (especially on Kindergarten school days where I am always "on")! It has made me proud to realize just how well I AM using my time. I took Mel Robbins advice this week of making a "have done" list instead of a "to do" list for one day and I impressed myself with just how much I am getting done (YAY me!)

But, it has also made me reflect on the fact that I have 2 times a day where reflection could be/needs to be done... morning and night. Morning when I hit the snooze button AT LEAST 3 times and morning (ugh, I have never been a morning person...) or night once our kids are settled in for the night and I just feel like checking out (it is "The Bachelor" season after all...)

So, I have spent the week setting that alarm for just 15-30 minutes early each morning this week and BINGO! It has been just the ticket to starting my day off right! It has been an optimal time to journal (again, thanks to Mel Robbins the "5 Second Journal" has been a lifesaver!), to blog (It is 6:16 as I finish this blog) and to set my intention for the day.

I feel rejuvenated and excited to start reflecting again. To blog, to journal and who knows what else I might decide to do with this extra time in my day!?

Thank you for the challenge Aaron! It has been a great way to become more aware and conscious of time and how planning is the KEY to finding more time in my day.

Take on the #TeacherMyth challenge for yourself!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

When you are inspired to create a Kindness Scavenger Hunt...

Inspiration for kindness is everywhere.

E V E R Y W H E R E.

Especially when you follow an incredible bunch of passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic educators/humans on Twitter.

Over Christmas, I found myself inspired by a tweet from one of my faves Tamara Letter  (@tamaraletter) whose book A Passion For Kindness comes out soon! Tamara wrote a beautiful blog post about a gift she received from her son Daniel for Christmas... a kindness scavenger hunt!

Read the full blog post here 

Now, I always reserve the first day back after the holidays for a "Kindness 101" day filled with random and not so random acts of kindness, but Tamara's post put the gears in motion to switch it up and provide my students with their own version of a Kindness Scavenger Hunt!

After being inspired by Tamara and her son Daniel, I brainstormed some age appropriate, free and simple ways our Kindergarten students could demonstrate and look for kindness in our own school community.

Here is what I came up with! (THANK YOU TAMARA!)

We chatted about New Year's celebrations and how we each took time to honour the new year with our families. Food, traditions, clothing, decorations... I told the kids about the fun glasses our family wore for our celebration and asked if they would like to wear them too! I was met with a very enthusiastic "YES!" I explained that our glasses were not only fun but that they would help us seek out kindness throughout our day as we moved through the hunt together. They became affectionately known as "Kindness Glasses" for the day. ;)

Our hunt was made up of 6 clues. The invitation to participate and first clue was left in our classroom in a gift bag as the students came in...

There is so much goodness in our school
Let’s get off to a happy start
Head to the office and give them this treat
This is sure to help grow their heart!

So off we went to the office to deliver some "encourage-mint" to our staff...

(Sorry! I got so excited on our first stop that I forgot to take any pictures!)

Our second clue...

Let’s do a loop in our school hallway
With smiles from ear to ear
We can high five everyone we meet
And wish them “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

"HAPPY NEW YEAR!" and smiles from ear to ear? Now THAT we could do!

Our third clue was found in the library and read like this...

Do you think you know how to say
“Happy New Year” in the Blackfoot way?
Miss Fox should be able to help us out!
That’s what kindness is all about!

Thank goodness we were able to visit with the amazing Miss Fox so she could teach us the proper way to wish someone a happy year in Blackfoot!

We were pros by the time we left...

Clue number 4...

Mrs. Maier and her grade one crew
are always having fun
Let’s go ask them to dance with us
And give them this treat when we’re done.

A Go Noodle dance break, some high fives and some left over sweet treats from a previous activity were good for all of us to share!

Clue number 5...

Our class of kids loves to colour
You always know what to do!
Let’s share our extra colouring sheets
With Mrs. Cormican and her crew!

Mrs. Cormican was SO excited for us to visit but even MORE excited to give us our next clue!

Our final clue was read like this...

How do you feel having spent time
Spreading all kinds of kindness and smiles?
Head back to our class to write a kind note
Then put them all into piles.
(Thanks for that idea kindness.org!)

When your work is all done
think with your heart
about all of the good that you’ve seen
Then settle on back for your own sweet treat
Mrs. Mac brought you jelly beans!

Thank you so much for all that you do
To make our world so much kinder
Your heart is so big and we’re grateful for you
Thanks for the kindness reminder.

 What a beautiful way to kick off 2019 together! And all because of an incredibly thoughtful son (that's you Daniel!) and a kindness hero who was brave enough to share (that's you Tamara!)

I hope YOU can find your kindness inspiration this 2019. Remember... it's everywhere.


Tuesday, 1 January 2019

One Word 2019: Wellness

The scary thing about putting a #oneword out there is the commitment you now have to following through. The accountability to get the job done. Wellness wasn’t going to be my word because it seems so darn cliche to set a “wellness” goal for the year.

But when I learned that ‘wellness’ encompasses 7 domains (physical, social, financial, intellectual, environmental, spiritual and emotional) I knew that it needed to be my #oneword for 2019.

My 2018 #oneword was CHANGE. I wanted to embrace it, lean into it and BE it. And change we did. A move to a new city/house/division/school was just the change we needed to be closer to our family and to feel less alone. 

And while the changes have been positive (we’ve been dreaming about making these moves for 11 years!) my social, physical, emotional and intellectual wellness have all take quite the blow. 

Based on last year’s commitment to my #oneword and the way it guided our life, I have high hopes for “wellness” guiding me in 2019. Battling anxiety, taking care of my physical/mental health and building stronger social connections are all part of becoming a better mother, wife, teacher and human. 

I am thankful for all of YOU. I know you’ll be checking in and keeping me accountable. I know your tweets and chats will challenge me and inspire me. And I know that I am surrounded by amazing humans who care deeply, work relentlessly and love fiercely. Bring it on 2019. #oneword

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

D.N.A. (Dreams, Needs and Abilities) Inventories and Their Power in the Classroom

Meet Little Laurie and Little Cody.
Me and my husband.
As 4 year olds.
Ready for Kindergarten.

These pictures hang next to my computer and are my constant reminder of what is truly important in our classroom... that I have the absolute privilege of spending my days with someone's everything.

Someone's E V E R Y T H I N G.

My life changed in so many when I became Mom and my classroom was not immune to the changes. The biggest change was my mindset as a teacher. It became crystal clear to me that I needed to adjust my path and prioritize connections and relationships.

When I thought of how I would want my OWN children to be treated, I knew that there was no possible way I could continue on the path I was on with other people's children. I wanted the best for my kids and their school experiences. I wanted for every teacher they get to be their "favourite" teacher. And as my own kids headed to school for the first time, I knew that it wasn't only MY kids that deserve this but ALL kids that deserve this.

I want great things for my own kids. For Little Laurie and Little Cody. I want for ALL kids to feel heard, cared for and wanted. I was searching for a way to pull all of this together and create a classroom culture where our kids felt valued and cared for. And then, along came Tom Hierck.

In 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a PD session with Tom Hierck (@thierck). I left that day with some strong messages. First and foremost, the message that EVERY student is a success story waiting to be told. He challenged us with the idea that successful learning environments are all about the choices we make and that we need to question our methods and try new approaches for learners who aren't ready "yet:.

But the biggest takeaway for me was the whole notion that the best way to build relationships with our students is to know their dreams, needs and abilities and to base their experience in our classrooms around this information.

In his book "Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom", Tom explains that all students arrive in our classrooms with their own dreams, needs and abilities. He suggests "the more teachers can tap into what motivates students and what students bring to the classroom each day, the more they can target instruction to those needs" (p. 41).

And this is where the idea of using DNA inventories in my classroom was born.

I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate DNA inventories into my classroom. As a Kindergarten teacher and as the first person meeting these kids in our school, I knew that knowing our learner's DNA would be a game changer when it came to building new relationships with new students in our school.

Even though the year was almost done after seeing Tom at that PD session, I went back to the school first thing Monday morning and set aside time for one on one conversations for each and every student. Part of me felt sad and disappointed in myself for not collecting this relationship GOLD before this point. But another part of me thought "Know better. Do better" and got incredibly excited about collecting this data from each learner.

You see, I prided myself on relationships with these kids. I felt like I really knew them. I could tell you about their families and their backgrounds and many of their interests. I knew their favourite colours and animals... I thought I had it licked! But nothing really prepared me that day for the immense sense of connection I felt with our kids. I was overwhelmed by their responses.

(These pictures are from that actual Monday when I first gathered DNA information from our students).

I shared this information with anyone who worked in our classroom. Specialists and volunteers and educational assistants and administrators... anyone who would listen! I preached about the importance of knowing your learners DNA and what a powerful tool it was in our classroom. I was overjoyed with knowing this precious information about our kids.

After reflecting on Tom's message some more, I knew just KNOWING this information wasn't enough. I needed to do more. Tom says in his book "It's clear that using the skill of relationship building (that is discovering every student's DNA) allows teachers to take the next steps in designing high-quality instruction for ALL students". 

At this point, I was starting a new year with a new group of kids. I knew I needed to take the idea of DNA inventories to the next level. I wanted a visual representation of their DNA. I needed it as a reminder for me of what was REALLY important in our class each day. I needed it to send a strong message to anyone who entered our room. I needed it to show the kids that THEY were the ones who mattered most in our room.

This board is the first thing you see when you walk in our room. It invites people to get to know our kid's DNA. The picture is taken on the first day of school for a very purposeful reason. It is a constant reminder of GROWTH. It is taken on a day that the kids are vulnerable/nervous/anxious/excited to start a new adventure. It is taken at the same time that our Little Laurie and Little Cody pictures were taken. My reminder again, that they do not belong to me. They are merely loaned to me by people that love them so much.

The word on the picture is a word chosen by their family that "best represents" them. I love to read over the words and reflect on how they are seen by the ones who love them most.

Now, starting off with DNA questions right off the bat in Kindergarten would be hard to say the least. They do not know me. They do not trust me. And I know that I would get a bunch of "I don't knows" and silence if I were to try and ask these questions on the first day. So, for the first month, these pictures hand with a list of each child's "likes". Favourite colours, songs, animals, games, books... all of the super important facts when you are 4 and 5. As the year progresses, usually within the first month, I move on to DNA for each student. I prefer to ask the questions face to face. I want to see their eyes. I want to hear the passion. I want to high five them for being brave enough to share such vulnerable information.

But our use of DNA inventories doesn't stop there! I now use the information for planning whole group and targeted instruction for our learners. You dream about speaking Spanish in Spain? Let's learn some! You love to draw rainbows? Teach us! You need help with scissor skills? Let's practice! You want to learn the parts of a monster truck/become a Disney princess/name Australian animals...? Let's do it!

I find that knowing this information and applying it in various ways throughout our year together builds a sense of community within our classroom and allows us to meet student needs in a whole new way.

DNA inventories have changed my focus, my energy and my connection with my learners. This precious information and the ways it is used in the classroom allows us to value their dreams, examine their needs without judgement and to focus on their abilities and the gifts they can share with others. It allows them to feel comfortable and cared for so that they can learn effectively. It provides a sense of being heard, loved and wanted in our classroom. It builds our classroom culture and sends the message that they are someone's everything and that it is a privilege to get to spend this time with them.

Monday, 29 January 2018

I haven't always been this awesome...

Since joining Twitter almost 3 years ago, something amazing has happened to me. (Well... to be honest, MANY amazing things have happened to me because of the people I have met on Twitter but that's a post for another time...)

I get DAILY affirmations from teachers around me.

D A I L Y.

Twitter isn’t a place of hate and ignorance for me. It is a place of hope, of inspiration and a perfect example of the power of relationships. I get complimented on my lessons and ideas. I get told by teachers that they wish they were more like me (WHAT?!?) I get told how awesome/kind/connected/reflective I am.

And every time someone pipes up with a compliment, it blows. my. mind. I feel the same about them and I take every opportunity I can to let them know how I feel.

When they do it in return?

I am left feeling a little confused. I am left living in the past. I am left with guilt and regret.

And I want to answer the same way every single time...

"It hasn't always been this way.

I haven't always been this awesome."

In my early days of teaching I found it impossible to be vulnerable which in turn, made it hard for me to connect to students, parents and fellow teachers. I saw others questions as a direct challenge on my competency as an educator. I had no kids of my own and instead of asking parents to help me since they are OBVIOUSLY the "expert" on their child, I pushed them away as hard as I could and acted like a know it all.

I was alone. I was scared. I was overwhelmed. But there was no in hell I was going to show it or ask for help. What a sad and lonely place I was in.

Now? Years of help and surrounding myself with people who GET IT has finally allowed me to realize that I AM A WORK IN PROGRESS and that's ok! Know better, do better right? Now my daily goal is not perfection. It is just to be a little more awesome each and everyday.

"I haven't always been this kind."

I wore a shield of armor for far too many years. I was part of an incredibly toxic relationship (before my Prince Charming came along!) and it left me with a terribly tainted view of the world. Emotional abuse left me feeling broken and jaded. I had no one to trust anymore and without someone to trust, it is hard to be kind.

Being kind takes vulnerability. It takes putting yourself out there without worry about how your acts will be received. Luckily for me, forgiving the past, meeting incredibly inspiring KIND people (who showed me that it was ok to be myself!) and being vulnerable once again allowed for me to realize that everyone has a story. When I keep this at the forefront of my mind? Being kind is easy. A no brainer. A lifestyle and not an act.

And I still have blips in my kindness journey! Sometimes I still say to myself "Tone it down, McIntosh". ESPECIALLY after someone makes a rude comment about my kindness being a "need for attention and gold stars" (<--- true quote right there!) I tell myself that it's not worth the time or effort or the nasty looks, but then I turn to my PLN and I let them set me straight again. Kindness is my jam. Unapologetically my jam.

"I haven’t always been this forgiving."

I loved a good grudge. And putting negative energy into them gave me some strange sense of comfort.

In my 3rd year of teaching I was physically threatened by a parent. Ugh. Talk about dream/soul crushing. To work all of those years toward the dream of being a teacher only to be put in a dangerous situation that changed me forever. I held a grudge. Toward the parent. Toward any person who took pleasure in telling the story like it was some kind of soap opera episode instead of my life. Toward the people who didn't protect me or come to my rescue or feel sorry for me or who told me "don't give up". I was angry at ALL of them.

Until I realized how much ENERGY went into holding on to this experience in my life. I HAD to get over it. For the kids. For my own little family. For myself. So I did.

Forgiveness is an intentional, purposeful, DAILY part of my life now. I try to see the best in everyone. Forgiveness is a key part of who I am today. Of the teacher and parent and friend that I am.

"I haven't always been this connected."

My ideas were MY ideas. Not yours. Not to be shared. Not to be collaborated on. Mine.

And then I started to see tweets like this...

And this...

And this...

I was longing to be connected and to be inspired. But without CONNECTION to other teachers, that was impossible. And without SHARING there was no way that connection could be built. So, off I went on a sharing expedition. Nothing was MINE anymore. It was OURS.

And the most amazing thing happened... I felt loved. And appreciated. And inspired. And connected. And loved some more.

I can't imagine my life any other way. The "mine" days are over. The "ours" days are where it's at.

Sharing is caring. George Couros puts the best I have ever read...

Check. Mate.

"I haven't always been this reflective."

I would be done with a day and call it good and move on. I was too scared to "go there". I was scared of the feelings it would bring up. I was scared I would feel inadequate.

And to blog?!?! No freaking way.

"Who wants to hear what I have to say?"

"I was WAY to much of a screw up to share ANYTHING about the teaching world. No one else would understand".

"I suck at writing".

The self talk was TORTURE!

I reflect through this blog for a couple of reasons but the biggest one? For my kids. Not my school kids. My OWN kids. Molly, Casey and Sadie need to hear that their Mama never got it all right either. And that's ok. We all make mistakes. We are all given a second chance every day to make it right. I want them to see these reflections and KNOW that reflection is important and vital to doing better each and every day.

"I haven't always focused on the kids."

THIS from Todd Nesloney's new book "Stories From the Web" made my mind SPIN this week...

I always THOUGHT I was focused on the kids. And I WAS for the first 2 years. But years 3-6 (after that nasty encounter) of my career? I was wrong. Oh so wrong!

I was about 12% emotional (like when a kid had experienced something really traumatic or had a diagnosis or was upset I was GREAT!) and the rest was ALLLLLLLL academic.

At the time I had no idea just how unfocused on the kids I really was.

On them. On what they REALLY needed.

Again... know better. Do better.

I am proud at how much I REALLY know about my learners now.

There is no doubt that I have finally found the balance that Todd touches on in this quote. And I have never felt better about the place I am in as a teacher.

My goal?

To believe in myself as much as my Twitter PLN does. I'm serious! The daily affirmations they give me are what keep me going and I only hope that I am doing the same for them.

I'm not sure what makes it SO hard to accept a compliment. Why a "you're awesome" makes me want to tell you all the reasons I am not. Makes me want to explain every mistake I have ever made. Makes me want to brush it off and tell you "no.. you are!"

I am vowing to work on this. To graciously accept these words and really let them soak in. To work on believing them and to work on forgiving MYSELF for the mistakes I have made.

We are not perfect. But we sure are awesome.

I'll take it.