A 2020 Year In Review For Honors Grad U

This may be a little cliche, but I think doing a year of review at the end of a year is not only fun, but important to look back on the growth and experience that came.

2020 was quite the year for everyone, it will be a year read about in history books for years and years to come. As far as 2020 goes for the Honors Grad U blog, it was a great year! It started by writing a series on using MBTI in the classroom, one that I loved researching and has helped many to learn more about how knowing personality traits in yourself and your students can make a vast difference.

In March, a global pandemic was declared, and a lot of my posts started revolving around COVID-19 and virtual teaching. One of my most popular posts came from this period of time, a letter to our 2020 graduates and part two.

Into April/ May I started up Feature Friday, which was so eye-opening to me to interview so many educators across the globe and learn more about them, as well as learn from their experiences teaching.

I started teaching preschool to my daughter, which led to a big chain of posts regarding early childhood education and some resources for all of the educators out there teaching this age group.

Books. I wrote about SO. MANY. BOOKS.

I became scholarship chair for the Design A Better Future Scholarship

School started in the fall in various different ways- in person, online, hybrid. Teachers were teaching in ways that have never even been attempted before! But also, students were learning in ways they’ve never had to learn before. They deserved a letter dedicated to them.

I started researching and writing about Enneagram in Education and how it can help us as students.

To end the year, I did a series of picture books for winter holidays beyond Christmas. This little research project has been very educational for me in learning more about different holiday celebrations and the history behind them.

It has been such a successful year of blogging and looking back I am grateful for those that made it that way. I’m ready to close this chapter called 2020 and excited to see what 2021 has in store for this site!

A Life-Changing Professor Teaching All Of Us

In college, I had this professor. You know the one that changes your life and puts you right on course for where you need to be? Yep, she’s the one. 

Dr. Mecham was my professor for my level two practicum (level four is student teaching, for perspective). On the very first day of class, she stood up in front of the roughly 150 students currently in the practicum and said, “This semester is going to be really hard. It will push you to a lot of limits and we will expect a lot from you. So if you feel like you need to switch to an easier major, perhaps engineering, then go ahead and talk to us and we can direct you to the correct advisors to help you make this switch.” 

I was blown away that she had the audacity to state that majoring in engineering would be an easier route than an education degree. I’ve never taken any engineering classes, so I cannot confirm or deny that her statements were true, but I will say that we were worked very hard by our professors and we were expected to perform to the highest standard that semester. 

During my practicum, it not only required 14 hours of classes a week but also being in an elementary school classroom every day of the semester working with a teacher to provide classroom experience. This time in the classroom was focused on working with students in small groups and one-on-one to slowly introduce us to eventually student teaching.

My practicum experience in the classroom was less than ideal, with a teacher that often sent me to the copy room to do mindless copy work and rarely let me work with students. There were multiple other problems I ran into, most of which I wish I would have been bold enough to stand up for myself, but at the time I wasn’t. 

After a semester of feeling discouraged and not very adequate as a teacher, I had my final interview with my professor, Dr. Mecham. I accomplished all of my school work, had a 4.0 GPA, and according to the books, it looked like I was the perfect candidate to continue my education degree.  However, my mental state said otherwise. Dr. Mecham was ready to pass me off and tell me I was ready to continue, but before so, she asked her final question that went something like, “Do you feel ready to move on and that you passed your level two practicum?” 

With tears in my eyes, I told her I couldn’t. I said that being a teacher must not be what I am supposed to do as a career, because I felt so inadequate in the classroom, and that I possibly needed to consider a new degree. 

She comforted me with compassion, asked details on why I was feeling this way, and reassured me that I wasn’t the problem, my situation was the problem. 

I left her classroom with a warm hug and felt better and more confident than ever before. She truly had just changed my life and kept me on the path as a teacher, one that I am still so happy to be on, even if I’m not actively teaching at the moment! 

A handful of times I ran into Dr. Mecham in grocery stores and other places throughout town. Every time she saw me she always stopped to say hello with a warm, welcoming smile. She always was ready to take the time to acknowledge an old student, which made me feel like a million bucks! 

About a year after being in her class, I was walking through campus with a new haircut. I happened to pass Dr. Mecham on my walk and the first thing she said was, “Oh cute new haircut! I like that style on you!” 

I want you to realize that Dr. Mecham hadn’t had me as a student in a full year. I had only seen her very briefly in passing a handful of times. And still, she recognized that I changed my hair! If you want to know the true definition of personal teaching, she is the icon for it. She also asked about my experience at college how far along I was in my program. I was happy to tell her that I would be student teaching soon, ready to take my final step in the program to reach graduation. She was elated for me! She knew how hard it was for me to get through my level two practicum and I knew she was the only reason I continued on. 

I thanked her again for telling me how truly hard it would be and preparing me to work hard. And for knowing me and my struggles through it all. I wasn’t just another student walking the halls of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education at Utah State University, I was a student of Dr. Mecham, someone she knew and cared about. And that made all the difference for me. 

I try to remember Dr. Mecham in my teaching experience. I try to get to know each of my students personally and pay attention to them as a human, not just someone to teach the curriculum to. 

And I strongly suggest you teach like Dr. Mecham too. 

You can read an interview I did with her earlier this year. Read her advice to pre-service teachers, it’s so good! 

 

An Open Letter To The Students Of 2020

Dear Students of 2020, 

Here you are! You are stepping into a world where no one has gone before. You are attempting to continue your education during a global pandemic. Someday your kids and grandkids are going to read about you in history books. 

They are going to read about your Chromebooks and iPads sent home to you from your schools for virtual learning. 

The face mask mandates in the districts and the creative face shields to replace masks.

They are going to see pictures of desks 6 feet apart and hanging sheets of clear plastic hung strategically throughout the school. 

Books and articles will talk about hybrid learning at home part-time, and at school for the rest of the time. 

It will highlight the stress of teachers, parents, and the stress of you as the student. 

You are being asked to learn on platforms that are still developing instead of classrooms that have been established for centuries. 

We are asking you to rise up and take a step into the darkness. The darkness of the unknown for our future. The unknown of when “normal” school full of chatting friends sitting nearby, tag at recess, and less than 6 feet apart for group work, will resume. 

It’s hard, and it’s scary, and you are the pioneers for this. Your feedback on Zoom meetings, Google Classroom assignments, and in-person lectures with adapted seating will drive our school system to success as teachers, administration, and parents navigate and troubleshoot this new layout of education. 

To the students of the 2020-2021 school year, our future is in your hands more than it has ever been in student’s hands before. And we trust you. Together, we can make it through and create a better world for those to come. 

You’ve got this. 

Learning Acceptance And Tolerance While Teaching Christmas Traditions

In 4th grade, I had this teacher who was nothing short of magnificent. She would get so excited about everything that just had a way of lighting a fire in everyone to learn. 4th grade, in my opinion, has some of the best curricula as well, state history! Since I grew up in Idaho she taught us all about Lewis and Clark, the pioneers, and the Appaloosa horse, our state horse. 

She also did a read-aloud every day after lunch. We would come in from recess, turn off the lights, and she would read to us as if we were in the story ourselves. I distinctly remember her reading Earthquake Terror and being so terrified myself because I was convinced I was in the water with these two siblings holding onto logs for dear life. Because of her, I will always 

One of my favorite units she taught was about Christmas around the world. It wasn’t required curriculum to teach, especially now with common core state standards, but something she felt was important to include in her teaching each December. Looking back, I am realizing it didn’t just teach us what each country saw Santa Claus as, but also taught us inclusion. Tolerance. Diversity. Loving. Acceptance. And more. 

Here is a great article on a few things I learned about Swiss Christmas.

We spent time researching multiple countries, what they ate around the holidays, traditions they have, and the values they held close. At the end of the unit, we had one big potluck of each type of food that we were even able to try ourselves! Talk about exposure to culture! I also want you to understand that I grew up in the sticks of Idaho. Ucon, Idaho to be exact. In Ucon, there was one elementary school, and then we had to “go into town” to attend Jr. High and high school. It was and still is, a farming community with very little diversity. So my teacher taking the time to teach us culture and give us exposure to something different was huge. 

I’m grateful for a teacher that took the effort to give us these opportunities and teach us beyond the test, especially in the early 2000s when being less aware of others was more common. I am not sure if she is still teaching to this day, but if she is, I cannot imagine the impact she is making on this world, given the impact she had in just my life. 

Amidst The Negative, You’re Doing A Good Job

One month before my first-grade year started, I received a letter from my teacher welcoming me to class. To start off my full career as a student, this was a great way to begin. I beamed with pride reading the words my soon-to-be teacher left for me in my mailbox. I knew this year would be extraordinary. 

Our first library trip as a first-grade class was overwhelming for me. I loved reading and I loved books, but I had a hard time choosing with all of the options in front of me. When library time was over and I was about to leave the room empty-handed of something I loved so much, tears overcame my little 6-year-old body. My teacher ran to my aid and led me straight to the shelf I never knew I needed. Books by Ann M. Martin. The Babysitters Club. She told me I would really enjoy them and that it was perfect based on my reading level. This simple act gave me the confidence in her that I could trust her judgment and that she would always be in my corner when I needed her. 

Fast forward to the winter. I was out playing in the snow with friends, too far from the school to hear the recess bell. I walked into the classroom 20 minutes late (it felt like over an hour to me). I felt bad for not following protocol and not paying closer attention to the bell, I knew I would be in trouble. However, it got worse when the blue board came into play… 

The blue board was a public shame. It was a big board with two columns and everyone’s name running down the left, white side. When an individual did something wrong (like come in from recess 20 minutes late), their name was moved to the other side of the board, the blue side. No one wanted to be on the blue board. But walking into my own fate, my name was moved for the first, and only time that year, and my soul was CRUSHED. I felt like my whole relationship and trust with my beloved teacher had shattered in seconds because of one mistake I made. 

Slowly throughout the year, the trust was rebuilt and I truly loved my teacher and the relationship I had with her, but I always held the blue board moment in the back of my mind. I held it so close that at the end of the school year I said to myself, “Someday, I’m going to be a teacher, and I will never use a blue board. That’ll show her!” 

Fast forward even further to my experience as a pre-service teacher. Many college classes spoke of clip charts or “shame boards” and it solidified in me that what my teacher did in first-grade was wrong. I had a small run-in with a clip chart in a different classroom, you can read about the experience here.  During this very brief time of using a clip chart, I still held my resentment for my teacher’s use of the blue board in my heart. I knew how much it affected me, and I truly did not want that for any other student I taught. 

A few years later after I had graduated with my teaching degree and did my long term sub job in a first-grade classroom, I unexpectedly ran into my past teacher while on vacation. I sat and spoke with her for an hour and told her about my experience subbing the same age of kids that she taught for years and years. I asked her advice on certain situations, how she would have handled some of the harder kids I had to teach, and ultimately thanked her for being such an influence on my life, especially for helping me keep my love of reading. I never mentioned the blue board, because even though it was still something that I thought about often, I held no resentment 20 years later. 

But in the conversation, she said something that really stuck out to me. She said:  

“I didn’t teach in a time of educational blogs and information readily at our fingertips, learning new teaching methods took a lot of searching and dedication. I made a lot of mistakes and I worry that I negatively affected the kids that I taught. But then I hear from you the successes you’ve had and it makes me feel better, so thank you for sharing.” 

I found this so interesting that she spoke these words to me since I had not brought up the negative interaction I had with her. I held these words close and silently forgave her for putting my name on the blue board years and years ago. It also made me think about my own interactions with children. 

How have I negatively affected students? 

What positive interactions have I had? 

Also, how many more of my past teachers and professors out there are beating themselves up because they weren’t the perfect teacher every day, and could use an encouraging message from past students? 

Teachers invest their whole heart and soul into educating human beings and often focus on the bad days and interactions. Let’s all take a minute to remember that even if you made a mistake, you’re still a great teacher, and your students still love you. 

You’re doing a good job. 

Labeling Emotions In Kids VS. Feeling Empathy

I was sitting in my economics class in high school, it was finals week. This class was a college credit for me so it was important that I did well. I studied the material and came prepared to get a good grade on my test, I knew the content and was prepared to show it. 

My teacher walked around the quiet room passing out the tests. He placed a one on my desk, and then put his hand on my shoulder. 

“You seem anxious,” he whispered, “Do you want to take this test in the resource room where you can sit in a quiet corner and focus better? It may help your anxiety.” 

Right away, I started to panic, was I anxious? Did I need a quiet room to test in? I was confident in my testing ability before, but this went out the window faster than my thoughts could finish processing. He told me I was anxious, so obviously I was. 

I truly know that my teacher meant well and that he never wanted to cause me more harm or anxiety. He was looking out for me, as well as other students, and tried feeling empathy and create genuine relationships with his students in order to teach us how we needed to be taught. 

But this experience made me think a lot about labeling a child’s emotions for them versus feeling empathy. What’s the difference? 

Labeling emotions is telling kids what they are feeling before they have the chance to tell you what they are feeling. 

Feeling empathy is giving a child the chance to process their own emotions, tell you what they are feeling, and then helping them feel those emotions. 

Emotions must be taught and understood so that students can label their feelings themselves before we create unnecessary labels for them, even if we are doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. 

Looking back on my experience of having a teacher label my emotions, I have thought many times about what a better approach might have been for him to take. 

Instead, he could have said: “How are you feeling about this test?” and waited to hear if I was confident, or worried. 

He could have also given me affirmation about my testing ability by saying, “I know you have worked hard in this class and to study for this test, especially when you came in during lunch to ask further questions on material you didn’t understand. You will do great.” 

It was a learning moment for me to watch what I was saying to my own students so that they can feel and process their own emotions, instead of me placing the burden of what I thought they were feeling on them. 

It took time, practice, and dedicated effort, but the results were worth it. 

What do you do to make sure you are genuinely feeling empathy instead of labeling emotions in your students? 

The Power of Authentic Praise in the Classroom: My Personal Experience

I had a student once, you know the student. The one that pushes buttons, tests boundaries, and always seems to say just the right things to upset you. He was difficult to have in the classroom and a challenge for every teacher, resource aid, and adult that walked the halls of the school. In my attempt to reach this student and use him as a powerful player in the classroom, not a distraction, I found research on praising in a positive, genuine way and the impact it can have on students. 

In short, I found in my research that we should be praising students genuinely, immediately, unexpectedly, and both publicly and privately. It should also be honing in on your own feelings, not said in a general sense. For example, instead of saying, “Good job on your book report” if you phrase it more in a sense of, “I was really impressed by your book report, I can see how hard you worked on it.” it will come across as more personal and elicit more feelings of accomplishment in the student. After coming forward with these findings, I was ready to apply them in my classroom with not only my difficult student but all of my students. 

It started slowly, I gave authentic, specific praise as often as possible, but whole class and individual students. However, I found that it was harder to give this type of praise to the harder students that didn’t seem to naturally follow directions like the rest of the class. 

One day, my particularly hard student (we’ll call him Johnny) was having an especially rough day. On the way out to recess, I saw him shove a notebook I had never seen before into his desk. “Hey Johnny, can I see that really fast?” Instantly he was defensive and hesitant because he was expecting to be reprimanded for it. I reassured him he wasn’t in trouble and just wanted to take a peek at something I found interesting on the cover. 

Right away I saw incredible artwork cover the front. I flipped through a few pages and found sheets and sheets of dedicated time and effort. My initial thought was that if he can spend this much time creating something like this, why isn’t he spending five minutes on his math homework? But then I had to change my thinking. 

“Oh, Johnny. This is absolutely outstanding! Did you create this all on your own? I love the attention to detail you gave this drawing.” 

He instantly was quiet and his cheeks red with embarrassment. I could tell fairly fast that this type of praise was not common for him, he wasn’t sure how to handle it. I knew it was something that needed to become more and more common with my speaking not only to him, but again, every single student I came in contact with. 

I started putting in extra effort into praising my students in an authentic way and started seeing a difference in my students. 

They started trying a little harder. 

They saw the hard work they were putting forth too. 

They started complimenting their peers and even myself in the same way.

Our classroom became an even more enjoyable, positive place. And on top of that, my little Johnny had a different attitude about learning and school in general. He sought to receive praise in his hard work. Don’t get me wrong, we still had struggles and I worked hard to motivate him the rest of the time! But deep down he truly did try to find that encouragement to keep going. He was easier to understand, and I truly found happiness in his drawings, especially when he would create something specifically for me! 

Ideally what I took away from this was that a little more effort in praise can go a long way if we take the time.