Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

What Am I Thinking?

I am such an Introvert–yes, with a capital I. I truly renew my energy when I am alone or with a small group. It takes a lot for me to enter a convivial group, but I do it because I know it stretches me and helps me learn–and I love the friends I have made on the Internet and at conferences and in so many learning places–and I want to see and connect with them all.  So I am here at ISTE15, but I am in my room, skipping #HackEd, because I have to sort out some thoughts about the momentous Supreme Court decision made yesterday–to allow marriage between any two consenting adults.

“The decision is a reminder that “change is possible, shifts in hearts and minds [are] possible,” he [President Obama] said.

“This nation was founded on the principle that all people are created equal,” he said. “People should be treated equally no matter who they are or who they love.”

I am an Introvert, yes, and I am also gay. Early in my career, I almost lost my job over being accused of it. I had to deny who I was, and I had to deny who I loved to keep my job. So I’ve been there–in a spot of being discriminated against because of who I am. I’ve been there–surrounded by judgmental people who wanted to do something mean to me just because of who I am. And, I’ve been there–thinking there was something wrong with me because of who I am.

I sit here and write on WordPress, and look at the rainbow header–their doing, not mine. I think of the picture of the White House–the White House, for goodness sake, bathed in rainbow colors!


I think of all of the amazing responses we have gotten from folks when my partner of 22 years and I announced we had decided to get married this summer. I think of a post I saw on FB by my partner, Becky, about all of the bible thumping folks and hope it is read…This is an interesting read for folks who are thumping the Bible over today’s SCOTUS ruling –  I think of all of the rainbows I have seen all over Facebook in the last 24 hours, and I think of the kids I teach.

Because despite all of my past fear, hurt and anger, (at times), over the discrimination I have been shown, what I mostly think about today is the children. They will grow up in a different world than I did. They will hopefully not be threatened with losing their job over who they are. And they will hopefully be in a school system that will support them and encourage them to be who they are, as they figure that out. Not all of us know right away who we are, and even more importantly who we want to become and what we can do to get  there.

I watched a boy in one of my schools, who at 7 years old in 2nd grade, wanted to be a girl, and was pretty vocal about it. He wanted to play with dolls, to play with the girls at recess, and to wear girl clothes. The school’s reaction, when the parents asked for advice, was to counsel them to get him psychological help. The school counselor put him in a social skills group with other boys to help him develop friendships. He was seated at a table of boys to help him have role models. He was encouraged to play in the “boy games” at recess. No one dealt with his very real feelings that he was different. No one talked with the other kids about what he verbalized to them. The very caring classroom teacher sought advice from other teachers, but she, too, didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t speak up at the time, because I was still afraid I would be branded and ousted as the gay teacher if I spoke up. I hate that I let my own fear keep me from offering support and help to those parents, and that child. He moved at the end of that year, so I don’t know what happened, but I often think of him (or maybe her, now.)

I think of all of the people who, for one reason or another, judge others and treat them differently because of that. I think of the bible teachings I learned as a youngster–“Judge not, lest ye be judged” and think of all of the hypocrites I have known–that claim to be Christian, but judge anyway–and treat others according to that judgment. And I think of how that treatment changes folks–kids or adults–in how they think about themselves, how they perceive their interactions with others, and how that affects who they are and who they become.

And I want teachers, everywhere to realize there is a LOT of literature out there right now with gay characters, with transgender characters, with characters who are struggling with eating disorders, or mental or physical disabilities–and with many, many other issues kids deal with, often without help. Developing empathy in kids supports kids who need it getting help. Reading and talking about books like this change kids.

When we read Out Of My Mind

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as a group of third graders, I had a kid say she didn’t want a child like Melody in her room because it would take too much of the teacher’s time and she wouldn’t learn as much. I kept pushing books on her that dealt with kids with issues and two years later, in fifth grade, she said it was one of her favorite books of all times.

We can make a difference…

…with all kids–whether they be introverts, extroverts, gay, transgender, biracial, questioning, incredibly smart, incredibly needy (for whatever reason), disabled (however that may be), “normal” (whatever that means) and/or any other way kids are. We can make a difference no matter who or how they are.

So as we sit in our sessions at ISTE15, (or any conference, or any professional development, or any meeting, or any classroom, for that matter)  and talk with the folks we see rarely, at conferences, I am thinking we need to always think about what we are helping the children learn–what are we inadvertently teaching them by NOT talking about issues important to them?

What are we saying when we have no books about gay kids or parents, when we don’t talk about the social issues they are engaged in, when we ignore the pain we see in their eyes or faces as they walk in our rooms? We, as educators, need to be open to all sorts of learners, to all sorts of people, and, more importantly, we need to help them empathize, to care, and think deeply about who and what they are and want to become.

We need to help everyone in our lives understand we are all people–mostly with the same insides, and mostly with the same goals in life–to survive (and thrive), to be happy (have fun), to be loved, to be safe, to belong, to have control over our lives, and be free to be ourselves.

I’m thinking we need to be familiar with lists of books that help kids understand other kids.

Here are some to get you started:

Top 13 YA Books for Talking to Teens about Tough Stuff

Popular Teen Issues Books

Best Teen Books About Real Problems

And I’m also thinking we need to get some serious conversations going among educators about how to shift hearts and minds, as President Obama said.

What are you thinking?


Endings and Beginnings

No matter how many last days of school I have, I am always gratified by the kids who stop by to say something to me–whether it be a simple “I’ll miss you” or a heartfelt “You were the best teacher I ever had” kinds of comments. This year was special, though, in many, many ways.

Yesterday one of my 5th grade boys came in and I showed him I had just gotten the 2nd book in a series we began this year. He was SO excited, so I handed it to him and asked if he wanted to read it. He took it gratefully, and asked if it was good. When I told him I hadn’t read it yet, he tried to give it back–“It’s your book, you should read it first.”  Nope, kid, it’s yours to read now…think I’d squelch that excitement you showed?  No way, no how.

I got an email from another boy’s Mom, this one a 4th grader–“We bought Neptune Challenge and he’s already started it.”  (Another book we read the first one together- the second one just came out.) This kid talks to his MOTHER about books, he goes home so excited! They read books together now…and that just began this year.

A girl came in this afternoon to make sure she still would have access to our ebook library this summer–and was wanting to make sure I didn’t remove her.  Two of my kids are planning to make a movie this summer, two others are planning to co-write a book together, they told me today.  Another Mom–“Thank you for helping K LOVE to learn!” Another 5th grade boy–“I was worried I was not going to be prepared for 5th grade, but then I went to you every week and I know I’ll be prepared for 6th grade.” A complete tear-jerker from a special helper this year-“You were a blessing that fell from Heaven and was given to me.”

As I reflected today on the end of my day, I realized that in August, I’ll begin the school year for the first time as an NBCT, since my certification began in November. I then thought that kids should be part of the National Board Certification process…and then I said to myself–wait a minute, they really are already.  When we who aspire to get that special certification videotape in our classroom, we show other professionals our kids, and how we teach. When those same already-recognized-with-this-honor teachers read our case studies and see our kids’ work, the kids are speaking to them as well as I did when writing those studies. The kids speak by how they act when learning–by what they say when they are with other kids, and how they grow and change as they work throughout the year.

Being an NBCT is humbling, as I am, with this certification, a teacher recognized nationally as being able to teach in any state because I have those kinds of skills. I am the only Gifted Resource Teacher in my division with this certification. (One other got it, but he moved out of the gifted field.) I am the only NBCT in my school, but not our county–we have a high number of teachers here who have also done the work to be certified. It is hard work to become one–to earn the licensed credential given by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. One has to prove in a multitude of ways that one is not just a good teacher, but an excellent one-one worthy of receiving the highest honor our profession bestows. These standards have been years in the making, and are rigorous, acknowledging the teachers with the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform the role of being an educator. Being an excellent teacher means constantly reflecting on what we can do to become even better–to move from “Yeah, I do that pretty well and kids get it” to “Gosh! What I did made a real difference in how deeply the kids learned and understood that material.”

As we end this school year, we educators always begin thinking about our next school year. We all need to show our kids we are lifelong learners, and not rest on our laurels. I encourage anyone who reads this who has not gone for their board certification to do so–yes, it is a lot of work, but every bit of it is worth it. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and embrace a change–big or small, but do something you’ve been thinking about, or wondering, or talked with a colleague about trying. As I begin my 42nd year, I will look to my kids and their families as my support partners–because that’s when miracles happen–when families and educators work toward a common goal of excellence, hard work and achievement. That’s when kids say things like “You have inspired me to push my limits and allways think outside the box. I hope you inspire many other students in the future the same way you inspired me. I am so grateful for everything you have taught me and will miss you so much.”

That’s my “new beginning” goal–to do what that kid wants me to do–inspire others to push their limits and think outside of the box.

Superheroes and Stereotypes…

I haven’t written on any blog for quite some time. I haven’t done much writing on any social media for quite some time. I have been involved in my schoolwork, my kids and more recently, getting ready for my wedding. I have lots to share about all of that, but really, with all the news focusing on Caitlyn Jenner and a post that came over my feed today (Heteronormativity in Schools) and a recent happening at school, I just need to think out loud.

I love the message this picture I saw on Facebook sends to girls:

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It comes from a campaign begun by a tech company that sponsors a “Girls in Tech” event.  Quoted from that:

“In science, technology, arts, mathematics, politics, houses of worship, on the streets, and in our homes, insightful women are often uninvited, overlooked, or just plain dismissed.

“Through storytelling, community building, innovation and creative disruptions, It Was Never a Dress will foster necessary conversations, vital voices, and images from around the world that honor ALL women. When we see women differently… we see the world differently!”

When I showed it to a second grader, she immediately smiled and said–“It’s a cape!” Her Mom happened to be right behind her, walking into my room and said, “Oh, cool.  Girls are superheroes!”

Then the original girl and another kid asked to put some around the school. I suggested they put them in the girl’s bathrooms, and so we printed a bunch out and a middle school helper and two 2nd graders organized hanging them around the building.

About 15-30 minutes later I was in the girl’s bathroom when an adult came in “checking for signs.”  All of the work the girls had done had been undone in less than 30 minutes. I don’t know on whose authority (our principal wasn’t there that day) and I also don’t know why. It’s been a heck of a week, and frankly, I just haven’t had time to ask. I will ask, but we’re two days away from the last day, and it’s crazy busy right now.

But I have been thinking and wondering why…

I have also been wondering why no one said anything about it–no question to the staff, no comments, nothing–and there’s one of these on my door, and on the doors of other teachers/classrooms in the building.

I am a gay woman getting married this summer. I have gotten some pushback about that from some surprising places, but have encountered MUCH more support, and my colleagues and principal have been just plain downright wonderful. As I said to my staff in a celebration they gave me, unless you’ve been part of a minority that’s experienced discrimination, you really have no idea how deeply it impacts your life in many, many ways–both good and bad. It makes you pay attention to things that may mean nothing, but may also be representing people unthinkingly perpetuating discrimination or prejudice. One often doesn’t know, but if you are part of a minority group, you wonder.  At least, I wonder.

I just can’t help but wonder why a picture that makes young girls think about themselves as superheroes would be a bad thing to post in an elementary school.  Thoughts?

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