Some Summers

The summers of my childhood were filled with
Hawaiian Punch popsicles and
Lemonade stands
Polka-dot ruffle-butt swimsuits
Leaping through sprinklers
Inflatable kiddie pools filled with icy water from the green garden hose
Sundresses and pigtails
Scraped knees and
Care Bear bandages
Watching Mom’s soap opera
Digging in the garden with Dad
Petting worms
Itchy grass
Potato bugs
Tree climbing
Hill rolling
Bike riding
Roller skates and jump ropes
Singing on the back stoop
Sidewalk chalk dust up to my elbows
YMCA Day camp
Girl Scout equestrian camp
JCC Jewish camp
Neighborhood block parties
Burgers on the grill
The ice cream man. THE ICE CREAM MAN!
Wiffle ball with the big red Mickey Mouse bat
Sweltering Brewers baseball games
Frigid put-your-sweatshirt-on-in-the-house air conditioning
Road trips to see
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans

My summers felt endless.
I felt carefree, creative, busy.
I couldn’t wait for summer to begin.

As teachers, we quickly learn that many of our students do not look forward to summer at all, the way some of us did as children. While some miss the companionship of their classmates, daily routines, and their teachers, others know that summer brings uncertainty, anxiety, disruption, and instability.

Their summers feel endless.
They feel anxious, bored, overloaded.
They can’t wait for summer to end.

Some children, anticipating change, need extra hugs, reassurances, and positive mindset coaching.

But for those who dread summer because they do not know where their daily meals will come from, cannot afford summer camp, return to respite care as foster children, worry for their safety, lack books in their home or a library within walking distance…these months away from the insulation of schools only raise anxiety instead of inducing relaxation.

These are the children who have started to cling. To worry. To whine. To act out. To cry. To argue. To resist. To build walls. To withdraw. They push away so the leaving doesn’t feel so hard. They fall apart because their million separate pieces feel safer at school than their whole, anywhere else.

Notice them now. Acknowledge them now. Help them with how to move on. Tell them that it may not feel like it, but summer will eventually come to an end. Show them that they will always be in your thoughts.

Send them into their summers with hope.
Love them now.

Spend your time now until the last day of school to
Read more aloud in class
Build summer TBR (to be read) lists
Check out classroom library books for students to take home and return next year
Teach families how to keep summer reading love burning
Talk about the value of a library card
Connect with your kids on Goodreads
Embark on literacy passion projects and studio time to pursue writing ideas
Give students the gift of their very own book (Scholastic Reading Club $1 books!)
Share your school or personal email so your kids can reach out over the summer
Decorate new Writer’s Notebooks: blank, fresh, and full of possibility
Build idea jars with writing prompts, thoughts, and inspirations to take home
Remind students that a good book can take them to
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans
And beyond, in their minds, in case they want to go somewhere, but need to stay here at home for the summer.

On the last day of school, they will leave your care, and know that they were, and are, loved.

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Oh, the Humanity!

Last week, I wrote a post that ended on a low note. A sad note. Some responded and said it was realistic. I think it’s all of this. I do want to take a moment to say that the most extreme examples given were hypotheticals, and fortunately not a reality I’m facing right now. But many of the other examples were real situations from my teaching career.

The notion that sometimes, we act in ways that, from the perspective of some students, appears to disenfranchise students. In ways that actually harms the community we try to build and protect.

I charged myself with writing a post about hope in these situations. Perhaps a post about moving forward.

I don’t know if this post will do that. But I will try.

This week, the President of the United States of America said, referring to undocumented immigrants (and likely specifically MS-13 gang members), “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

The internet, as the internet does, exploded. “He’s calling people animals!” “Are you really defending MS-13?” And what was lost in all the divisiveness was every aspect of humanity: ours, those we disagree with, and yes, the gang members being referred to.

But the truth of the matter is that every human being is a person. While there are reasonable disagreements over when personhood begins and when it ends, I think we can all agree that, at the very least, once a baby is born, they are a person until they are brain dead. There isn’t anything they can do to change that.

To repeat: there isn’t anything we can do to no longer be people.

But this isn’t a morality blog. It’s not a religious blog. It’s an education blog. But for me, those are all wrapped up in each other. Because what I know is that every single human being who comes into my classroom, my school, my community, is a person.

Even those who deny or repress the personhood of others.

That we are people is the thing that truly brings us all together. That is the essence of our communities.

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Photo by DrewMyers – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2286/2211382500_60061ce422_b.jpg

So. What does that mean when it comes to situations where student groups declare supremacy of race, gender, or sexuality? When students are actively oppressing other students?

It provides us the basis of the conversation. But the conversation cannot go “hey, Student A, you’re dehumanizing Student B, and I can’t allow that.” Ever been told you’re dehumanizing someone? I haven’t, but I can’t imagine it gets taken very well.

The conversations need to start with understanding. “No, I cannot let your group meet on school campus. Yes, I realize you’ll be talking to the administrators. Yes, I understand you want to hire a lawyer and you feel your free speech rights are being trampled upon. But what I really want to know is why you feel so passionately about this cause. Tell me what it means to you.”

Listen. Converse. Humanize the student with whom you disagree. Stand firm in your decision, but talk with them. It’s easy to protect your students from attacks. They’re our babies. But it’s also important to respect and treat as people our students doing the attacking. Because they’re our babies, too. And no matter what, they all have to learn. And all means all.

Now, as I said, these most extreme examples are hypotheticals. So let me make this real.

2016 US Presidential campaign. I had a group of students who would chant, in the middle of class, “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” It was easy for me to have them stop, because it was inappropriate to chant anything in the middle of Statistics class, let alone what had been used as a divisive, racist chant in schools elsewhere.

But I also talked with them. I wanted to know: why did they support Trump? What was the appeal? I wanted to know, but I also wanted to let them know that I hear them. I disagree, and there are things I won’t allow, but I hear them. I see them. I value them as people. So we talked. Mostly, I listened. The chants mostly stopped, and the learning continued.

After the election, a student tossed a word I’d rather not say here around in the hallway. A blend of a political leaning and a slur for someone with a cognitive impairment. The discipline was easy: that’s not an appropriate term to use, and it therefore had consequences. But I talked with the student. I let him know why I felt that term was not okay, and I asked him why he used it. What motivated it? I wanted him to know that I hear him (literally, in this case). There are things I won’t allow, but I hear him. I see him. I value him as a person. We talked. He apologized, and I didn’t hear him use the word again.

I could not do those things were it not for the community that I had spent time and effort building first. But humanizing those I disagree with and those I was disciplining also helped build the community.

So maybe that’s the trick. Maybe that’s the hope in all of this. If we remember we’re all people, we can heal and continue to move forward together.

We Did It!

Dear Children of Room 215,

We did it!

You made it to the end of your second grade year without having to use a classroom behavior chart.

If you can even remember this was a very hot topic during the beginning of the year. Several of you wondered why we didn’t have one. You were upset that other classrooms had one but we did not. You were nervous about what it would be like to not have the classroom behavior chart. You asked questions like, “Well what about us who always move up? What will we get?” You also asked questions like, “How will we know we are being good or bad?”

I remember listening to your passionate concerns. Not answering…just listening. I wrote down many of your questions and concerns as it helped me to better understand your needs. Ultimately, you wanted to feel successful. You wanted others to know you were successful. You wanted the classroom to feel “good”. And you also wanted to celebrate success.

We spent a significant part of the first three months of school having conversations around living as a community. We agreed that we would all work to be respectful, kind, safe, and brave. We also agreed to use these four practices to help us navigate situations and issues that arise in the classroom community. As we discussed your questions and concerns about how you will know if you are good and bad and what will happen if someone is not following our four practices we decided to use our words instead of using a chart.

We learned to use our words to praise…

We learned to use our words to debate…

We learned to use our words to encourage…

We learned to use our words to express hurt and sadness…

We learned to use our words to heal…

We learned to use our words problem solve…

We learned to use our words to say, “Stop, I don’t like it!”

We learned to use our words to communicate joy…

We learned to use our words to compliment…

We learned to use our words to say, “I’m getting angry!”

We learned to use our words to say, “I need my space.”

We learned to use our words to help others feel good…

WE LEARNED TO USE OUR WORDS…

As I watched all of you learn to use your words I noticed that I was no longer the person you approached to help solve a problem. You began working issues out on your own. At times some of you would ask for a class discussion and we would have it. I did not have to suggest that for you. I noticed that positive feedback did not only come from me…it MOSTLY came from ALL of YOU! I witnessed smiles, tears, laughter, frowns, and joyfulness. I noticed an eagerness to work things out because you cared to.

My hope for all of you is that you can take the power of your words with you and know that the chart does not give you power…You DO!

Love,

Mrs. Burkins

Asterisk

2 weeks ago, I published a post about the importance of supporting all of our students as they engage in various levels of activism. My rallying cry of the post was that we support all our students, and that all means all.

But, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are asterisks to catch-all phrases. This post is about that asterisk.

I stand by my words from the first post (I mean, they’re only 2 weeks old; humans change and evolve, but usually not that fast). But I think there’s something that needs addressing that may seem obvious to some, and may not to others.

I gave examples of supporting students regardless of the activist position they were taking. The examples I gave were perhaps loaded with emotion, but also were all of a certain type. The examples were for/against 2nd Amendment/gun owners’ rights and for/against the banning of books.

While there are certainly powerful responses to those topics, and a lot of passion involved, they all are opinions socially acceptable to hold (though certainly each carry their own set of consequences).

So let’s push the issue.

What opinions are no longer socially acceptable to hold? What opinions infringe upon the rights of others? When is holding a particular opinion actually harboring hate speech?

How do these examples fit in the “support the student regardless of their views” thought?

  • A student group opposing the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
  • A student group supporting the NRA
  • A student group supporting the building of a wall along the US-Mexican border

Those are all political stances that exist in the US, but carry with them much more weight than the previous examples.

What about these?

  • A student group that declares homosexuality is an abomination and supports gay-to-straight conversion camps
  • A student group that declares the superiority of one race above another
  • A student group supporting Richard Spencer and the rallies he has organized

Do any of these push into the asterisk zone where you cannot support the student because of the opinions they hold?

I cannot answer that question for every individual teacher. But I do know that the last three bullet points would be an absolute deal-breaker for me.

I can be a teacher who supports a trusting community by supporting my students in their opposing views.

However.

I cannot be a teacher who supports students in actions that tear down the very fabric of that trusting community. I do draw a line. I do dwell in that asterisk. When a student supports a message of hate, I can no longer support that student, because hate has no place in a community.

Let me repeat: hate has no place in a community. And it doesn’t matter if the hatred is directed at members of the community or not. Directed hatred cannot be allowed to be a part of the communities we build in our schools.

Most countries have free speech laws. But many countries also have laws that limit that speech when it turns into hatred of others. And regardless of the level of those laws, we have an obligation to support our students and defend our students. When it comes to a point where I have to choose between supporting my students or defending my students against their peers, I will defend them.

And I will also let my students know why I cannot support them. Why I cannot give them space to meet. Why I cannot give them advice on how to get their message out. Why I cannot provide them with any assistance. Why I believe their message is one of hate, and why I believe that has no place in our schools.

Those will be incredibly hard conversations, and those students will likely lose all respect for me, as they very likely disagree. They will feel as though I have failed them. They will feel as though I am a hypocrite. The community will be damaged, and it will not be likely to recover.

I have to stop here. This post is getting too difficult to continue right now. The hardest thing I have encountered as a teacher is when I have been faced with a choice, and all options lead to a fractured classroom community. All options lead to fracturing the thing I value the most for my students. But sometimes, we are faced with just those sorts of choices. I am in tears thinking about it, and I must take time to recharge.

Next Saturday, I will attempt to have a post about hope in these situations, as well as what administrators can do to support their teachers who support their students.

Was It Enough?

Was it enough?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for middle school?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for life?

Do they
Feel
Physically and emotionally safe?

Do they
Know
Their own potential?

Do they
Know
How much they’ve taught me this year?

Do they
Know
How much I care?

Was it enough?

Will they
Fail?

Will they
Fail
forward?

Will they
Act
With purpose and drive?

Will they
Do
The right thing, even when it’s hard?

Will they
Read
With the same excitement and passion as they do now?

Will they
Write
With the same tenacity and courage as they do now?

Will they
Respect
Everyone’s differences?

Will they
Embrace
Productive discomfort?

Will they
Return
To visit and share their successes?

Was it enough?

Please continue to
Collaborate well.

Please continue to
Use your voice.

Please continue to
See the power of the word “yet”.

Please continue to
Stay curious.

Please continue to
Notice and wonder.

Please continue to
Find your passion.

Was it enough?

Did I
Provide
Books that mirrored their life experience?

Did I
Listen
To them sufficiently?

Did I
Push
Them beyond their comfort zones?

Did I
Empower
Them to own their learning?

Did I
Give
Enough high fives?

Did I
Treat
Them all fairly?

Did I
Tell
Them how proud I am?

Was it enough?

All About Me to All About Us

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I had the pleasure to attend The Ohio State University’s Commencement this past Sunday as a proud parent of an undergraduate senior.  I had no idea I would find a topic to share today and start taking notes during the keynote address while listening to, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann shared her story; growing up, education, and research.  She had bumps, valleys and success.  Her message to the graduates was based on her own journey.  Shifting her thinking from all about me to thinking all about us; brought depth and purpose to her work.  She urged the audience to ask, What can I do for our world?  This will shift our thinking from me to thinking about us.  She urged us to question ourselves and cautioned us that good intentions are not enough.  Good intentions are still about me.  She wants us to ask; What was the impact?  What improved?

She urged the graduates to shift their thinking as soon as possible from me to us!  I began thinking about my second graders.  Why do we need to wait to start thinking broader? Can we shift our thinking at seven and eight years old to be bigger than me? I started brainstorming questions and ideas  –

  1.  What can we do for a younger grade?
  2.  What can we do for a special group of students?
  3.   What can we do for families staying at our local childrens hospital?
  4.   What can we do to impact our world?
  5.   What can we do to make a difference in our own building or classroom?

 

  1.  Read biographies about those not so famous.
  2.  Find stories about kids making a difference.
  3.  Discuss and identify feelings we have.
  4. Do things locally now to make a difference and make it concrete.
  5. Encourage and foster inquiry.
  6. Foster a relationship with an organization that needs help.
  7. Do community service more than once with an organization.
  8. Field trips are so limited – bring speakers from the organization to us.
  9. Share photos with the organization or video for visuals.
  10. Spark and provide creative moments to be a maker.

When Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said, “we under estimate ourselves” I instantly thought about our elementary age students.  I think they get under estimated. They are powerful and filled with potential.  Listening to her speak on Sunday made me think about fostering a community and how that is really taking the thinking all about me and making it all about us.  However, can we take that all about us and make a difference?  Can we go outside our four walls and have an impact on others?

I’d love to know what others are doing to take help their communities to make a difference and impact others.  Please share ideas in our comments.

How My Fitbit Made Me a Better Principal

Earlier this week, I received an email that I have been waiting four months to receive.  This long awaited email was from Fitbit and it was my 30 pound weight loss badge. Fitbit awards users various types of badges for accomplishing different things: number of steps in a day, total steps since joining, flights of stairs climbed, and total weight loss.  I’m very proud of this accomplishment. I have stuck with my New Year’s resolution for four months. During that time, I have logged at least 10,000 steps every single day. I have more energy, my blood pressure has greatly improved, and I even started playing hockey in a men’s league.  My health is better thanks to a change in diet and exercise. My Fitbit plays a big part in keeping me motivated with both. My Fitbit has also helped to make me a better principal.

30 lbs

I didn’t notice it right away.  In fact, when I first bought my Fitbit, I thought it would be a pretty useless tool for me.  My daily routine was pretty set, and I was certain I had about 10,000 steps every day. To prove this, I decided to make no lifestyle changes when I first bought the Fitbit.  I was just going to follow my normal week and check the results. As an elementary principal, I am pretty active during the day and assumed I easily would amass 10,000 steps without even thinking about it.  Wrong! I was shocked to see that during my test week my steps per day ranged from 3,238 (Did someone carry me to work? I am pretty sure it’s more steps than that to walk to and from the building.) to 14,730 (Recess soccer with the fifth graders is so much fun).  My average for the week was 8,340 steps.

When I reflected back on the week, I noticed 2 days were really low (3,238 steps and 5,098 steps).  Furthermore, I had 2 days that were pretty high (13,294 steps and 14,730 steps). I thought about my attitude during the week, my stress level on those days, and how much energy I had for family time at the end of the day.  It is probably not surprising that there was a direct correlation between number of steps I took in a day and how I felt at the end of the day. More steps = more energy, less stress, and a better attitude. My Fitbit became a tool for school culture.  I am the leader of the school, and I can’t be the best me if I have low energy, high stress, and a bad attitude.

I quickly realized that I didn’t feel better just because I was taking more steps during the day.  I felt better because the activities that required me to take steps were also the activities that are essential for being a good principal.  Coincidentally, these are also the activities that make being a principal an awesome job. Examples include activities like frequently visiting classrooms in the building, talking to kids and engaging in recess games with them, and walking around before and after school talking to parents and teachers.  I also realized that the activities that didn’t require me to take steps are also the activities that are necessary but also the boring part about being principal. They are activities like answering emails, filling out never ending reports, and reading memos…long, long memos. All of those things are essential parts of my job that I am required to complete.  However, it is way too easy to get stuck in my office doing those things and neglect the importance of being out in the building.

One feature on my Fitbit that I love is the hourly reminder to get at least 250 steps.  There is no excuse for me, as a principal, to go a full hour without ever talking to a student during the school day.  Reports have to be completed and emails have to be answered, but students are the most important part of my job. That alert on my Fitbit reminds me of that very thing.  Principals have more and more responsibilities every year. Recent surveys show that principals are more stressed than ever and have more demands on their time than ever before.  It is easy to get stuck in my office all day long. My Fitbit helps to remind me how important it is to not let that happen.

Last week was the perfect example of how powerful this simple tool has been for me as a principal.  I was bogged down with state testing paperwork and school improvement surveys. I needed to send letters to incoming families, write a 504 plan, and hadn’t even started writing an evaluation report that was due to the Superintendent.  No way was I getting out of my office but that pesky buzz reminded me that I had been sitting for 50 minutes without taking a single step. Although I almost ignored it, I also can’t deal with a missing red dot on my Fitbit app, so I stood up and headed out of my office.  Get the 250 steps and get back to work on the reports.
Amazing things happen at Hemmeter every day and I can’t ignore them even if I have a mound of reports due.  Outside the office, I started talking to students and visiting classrooms and chatting about books and posting pictures to our Facebook page.  An hour (and 3,300 steps later) I felt recharged. I helped a teacher fix their Promethean Board, watched students present to parents about what they learned during a coding unit, learned from students how to use MicroBits, witnessed the largest Keva block tower I have ever seen, and did an impromptu book talk on Ghost Boys to a student browsing my principal’s bookshelf.  I’m glad I didn’t ignore that Fitbit alert. I would have missed an awful lot sitting in my office.