Celebrating Bucket Fillers at Flint Springs

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How full is your bucket? At Flint Springs Elementary School, this question is asked often, and the last day of 2012 seems like a fitting time to reflect on the answer. Today marks the close of my official time as the Indiana Teacher of the Year. I’ve been told repeatedly that my commitments will continue, but I know the expectations will be different. At our Teacher of the Year trainings, they warned us about this day saying, “December 31st marks the end of your year of recognition, but it also begins your lifetime of obligation.” Visiting Flint Springs Elementary School helped me find a way to articulate how I intend to approach this time of transition.

The wise educators at Flint Springs use the book, How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer to create a climate of kindness. In the book, the main character, Felix, learns that negative words and actions empty the “buckets” of those around him. He soon discovers, however, that kindness is contagious, and when he is a “bucket filler,” he ends up feeling happy, too.

During 2012, many wonderful people filled my bucket to overflowing. Yet, throughout the year, I felt guilty knowing so many other educators deserve the same praise. The teachers at Flint Springs are perfect examples of the hard working people who warrant “bucket filling” experiences. Throughout my day at Flint Springs, I heard teachers affirming the work of their students. I wasn’t surprised because teachers are experts at praising others. However, as I admired these incredibly dedicated teachers, I wondered, “How often does someone take the time to fill those teachers’ buckets?” I know how their principal feels. When she talks about her staff, you can hear the pride in her voice, but we can’t just rely on administrators to be bucket fillers.

Which leads to my “lifetime of obligation.” In 2012, my bucket was filled. In 2013, I intend to share those drops of kindness with others. I will continue to praise and encourage my students, but I also commit myself to being a “bucket filler” for teachers. Thank you, Flint Springs, for helping me understand that my journey as the Teacher of the Year is not really ending. It is just the beginning of a lifetime of new opportunities to remind teachers that they have the most important job in the world. Happy New Year, Flint Springs, today, I celebrate you!

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Celebrating Time

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Last Friday, when I opened my laptop to write this blog, I learned of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I closed my laptop, cried, and prayed. I sought answers to questions that should never have to be asked knowing full well that I would never understand. Even though I spend considerable time convincing my students that words have power, I knew in this instance that words would fall short. This is supposed to be a blog of celebrations, but I could not, at that moment, find much to celebrate. The answer finally came to me yesterday in the hallways of an elementary school. 

Several weeks ago, I scheduled my visit to Flint Springs Elementary School, and the principal and I agreed on the date of Monday, December 17th. At the time, I could never have fathomed what would occur the Friday before my visit, but I am grateful I was able to be at a school on this particular Monday. Being with children reminded me of the true value of the time we have together. We never know what tomorrow will bring, but each moment we spend with a child is precious. I hope that I, as a teacher, never forget that valuable lesson.

In my speeches, I often tell stories of mistakes I have made in hopes that others can learn from my downfalls. On one particular day, my principal walked in for my formal evaluation, and at that moment, I was so nervous about the evaluator standing in the back of my room, that I forgot to focus on the students sitting right there in front of me. I am ashamed when I describe that moment, but my honesty often resonates with others, and they, too, admit that it is easy to lose focus. When that happens, I know I am cheating my students out of my gift of time for them. Yesterday, I made an effort to really focus on the people I was seeing, not on the tasks I had to accomplish. Given the events of the last few days, I hope that is a lesson we will all remember.

As I continued to contemplate this gift of time yesterday, I, ironically, discovered a bulletin board that highlighted the importance of “Adequate Time.” While the board was referring to providing adequate time as a sound instructional practice, I wondered if we, as a nation, will give ourselves “adequate time.” Will we take the time to reflect, think, and process as the strategy suggests, or will we try to skip right to the organize and work stages?  Before we begin discussing “solutions” to violence in our society, maybe we would do well to invest some of that energy reflecting on what we’ve learned.

Many teachers are looking forward to having a little extra time over the upcoming break. Might I suggest that we use that time to reflect, process, and think about what is most important to us, then invest our time wisely. Today, in the midst of mourning, I celebrate time and reflect on the gift of every precious moment.

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Celebrating Parkside Elementary School

         “Shoot for the Moon”

Image 1As I traveled the halls of Parkside Elementary School in my astronaut flight suit, I paused at a bulletin board that fit with my “mission” theme. It said, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, at least you’ll land among the stars.” The teachers at Parkside are clearly encouraging their students to “dream big.” As educators, we understand the power of teaching our students to have high aspirations. However, today I want to remind teachers that they supply the motivational fuel that propels their students toward future success. Parkside’s teachers clearly know how to motivate. Every class I entered was filled with engaged learners working diligently to create a lifetime of opportunities. However, I also found myself reflecting on the special role this place had on my own life mission. You see, Parkside Elementary School is where my teaching journey began.

19 years ago, I was hired to be the media center instructional assistant at Parkside. Walking into the media center reminded me of the lessons I developed, many years ago, to instill a love of reading in the children Image 3at Parkside. Realistically, I now understand that as a “just graduated” 22- year-old teacher, I was actually learning more than I was teaching.  I am glad I spent time listening to and watching veteran teachers at Parkside who knew how inspire their students. They taught me how to teach, but they also showed me how to motivate students to greatness. You can imagine my emotions last week when I finally had the opportunity to honor many of those veteran teachers for impacting my life. I loved every moment I spent in their rooms, but the blessings didn’t stop there. As I entered the classrooms of the teachers who came to Parkside after I had already moved on, I immediately sensed that they had the same ability to inspire their students. These teachers help the children in their rooms envision a future life filled with meaningful accomplishments.

One of the final classes I visited  surprised me by turning the tables on my objectives. I enter every school determined to remind the teachers of the significance of their work. I make it clear that I am there to celebrate the work of my fellow educators; these days are not about me. However, this particular class insisted on presenting an award to me, and for a few moments, they made me feel like a star. Isn’t it interesting that the very people we intend to inspire actually end up motivating us? As my day drew to a close, I realized that I came to Parkside to honor these incredible educators, but in the end, they, once again, touched me.

Many years ago, Parkside’s staff inspired me to be the best teacher possible. I still haven’t arrived because I have so much more to learn. Yet, in the process, I do believe I’ve landed among the stars. After all, this year, I get to spend my days among the brightest of them all – the teachers of Indiana.

Parkside Elementary School, keep shining brightly, and thank you for launching me on my own “shoot for the moon” mission. Today, I celebrate your commitment to fueling the fires that will propel the next generation into a future that illuminates the universe.

Envisioning the Future

“Envisioning the Future”

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