I JUST ORDERED 24 ICE CREAM SANDWICHES. The lady standing next to me had huge eyes when I said, “Let’s start with the ones that are the same. I’ll take eight . . . “ When I kept ordering people gave funny looks. Friday is our last day of Leadership Academy. We are celebrating with ice cream sandwiches. The kids had to bring in money to pay for them, but we are still getting them all the same. Most of them have never been to Cream, which is a new ice cream place in town. They were baffled by the complex choices they were given.
“Mrs. E? It says ‘choose your base’? What does that mean?” I had printed out from the ice cream shops website the menu for their sandwiches. Kids got to pick their cookie, pick their ice cream AND pick their topping. It was almost too much for some. “Maybe I won’t have ice cream.” They said nervously. Between classes I walked a bunch of them through the process, and one student even insisted on choosing soy mint chip ice cream. “I think they have regular mint chip.” I told her. “Soy sounds interesting to me.” She explained. “Like maybe it is good for the earth.”
Most of them were able to cover the cost of the ice cream, but I ordered enough for everyone. We will figure out the money aspect later. Our parent faculty club just reminded me yesterday that they would be happy to help with an end of year celebration. I’ll check with them to cover the cost. They do a lot for our kids.
Before we get to the peace and calm of ice cream on Friday, we have to manage Thursday. Tomorrow is our Showcase. All of my Leadership kids have to present to parents, teachers, other kids. They will be sharing the projects that they worked on with all the grownups that have supported them over the school year. This is happening in the evening - from 5:30 - 7:00. But of course we still meet from 3:00 - 5:00 which is our regular time to prep and make sure we are ready to go. In other words, my family had better cook for themselves.
During the school day, thirteen of my students will be giving their TED Talk one more time, to a few distinguished guests that I’ve invited. It seemed like a GREAT idea at the time, but now I am tasked with making sure my classroom, my students and my equipment is ready to go. And you know how much I enjoy a good worry.
Of course, after all of this, is the roll down hill toward summer. Once our presentations and showcase is over, I can relax back into the regular roll of things. This Friday is our very last news broadcast, and a teacher pal and I have put together a pretty awesome “secret project” which involves every person on staff. (If you are reading this and work at my school, and I haven’t videoed you waving — see me tomorrow ASAP!!) . It has turned out pretty sweet, and I hope everyone loves it as much as we do.
Today was our principal’s birthday. (I got him a yearbook for his present!) . You could track where he was on campus all day because wherever he would show up, students would start singing “Happy birthday”. It was pretty funny listening as he made his way down the halls. It was also pretty sweet too. I mean birthday’s at school aren’t the same as birthdays in Cabo, but they have their own magic, right?
So, I am apologizing to Terina in advance, tomorrow’s blog might be a little bit late — as it will be a long day. I hope it is filled with stories of my amazing students shared their talks, stories and projects. I hope it is filled with glorious, joyful excitement as I recount showcase and our TED Talks. Basically, I hope. Either way, we always . . .
Keep moving forward,
TODAY WAS THE DAY OF DAYS, again. I could hardly fall asleep last night knowing that I would FINALLY be able to hold our yearbook in my fingers. Would it be horrible? Had I accidentally order the wrong size and our yearbooks would only be 3 x 5? Would the awesome price I managed to find mean that the pages would be made out of newsprint and the whole yearbook look like something that someone made in their garage? Did I mess up on the checking and double and triple checking and accidentally spell everything incorrectly? Would they get delivered after 4 pm. and the office would be closed so they would go back to Wisconsin where they started?
Our infinitely patient school secretary, who I had warned of our impending delivery first thing in the morning, called just before lunch that the boxes had arrived. Heartbreakingly, I had to wait another twenty-five minutes for my class to end. In the meantime, she told me, “I am going to peek at one.” This killed me! I couldn’t wait to see it. I waited a reasonable 5 minutes and then emailed her. “Did you peek? Is it horrible? Is it wonderful?”
When I finally opened that box, I was pleased to discover that our yearbooks looked just as I had envisioned them. I had picked the right size. I had chosen the right quality of paper, and thanks to a crew of people helping me proofread, the words are spelled correctly.
This is the first yearbook I have ever made. It was born out of my principal saying to me earlier this year, “Hey, what do you think about your leadership class also putting together a yearbook. “ As bosses go, he’s pretty awesome, and so when he asks you to do something, you pretty much want to give it a go. It was not too long after this that I had remembered someone, somewhere saying something about making a yearbook in google slides.
Jen Scott is a genius. Her slidesyearbook.com website was everything I needed to make a yearbook. She has templates, and our awesome Parent Faculty Club even paid so that I could take her yearbook making course. It not only improved my own photography skills, but you should SEE the pictures that my leadership class took. THEY ARE GORGEOUS. You actually can see a ton of them because we often use the pictures they took for our school social media sites.
Here is the thing. Yearbooks are for the rich kids. You know this to be true. Yearbooks have gotten even more expensive over the years. Many high schools charge over $100 for their yearbooks. My sister and I had to share yearbooks all the time — which is how parents really cut the cost. But thanks to Jen Scott, my leadership kids made a 66 page, full color yearbook and we only have to charge $10 for it. It took a lot of searching on my part to find a company that could put together a reasonably priced yearbook, but I did. Those yearbook companies are a racket. I had to approach many publishing companies gently. “I’m looking to produce a book for our students - a sort of collection of memories . . .” The second that you use the word yearbook — they add $12. My goal was to charge $10 for the yearbook, and that is just what we are charging. The company we worked with, Blossom Books, was AWESOME. We designed the whole thing ourselves with support from Jen Scott’s amazingness, and uploaded it to their website and BOOM, we had a beautiful, glorious yearbook.
This is probably more talk about yearbooks than you want, but my teacher friends need to know this. You can make a beautiful yearbook — soft cover, hard cover — and you can make it for so much less than you are currently making one. SERIOUSLY. You don’t need to charge kids $100. You could make a hard cover book for $30. Imagine making sure that EVERYONE could have a yearbook! Tomorrow my leadership team, who were all on a field trip today, will get to see what months of their hard work has produced and I can’t wait to see their faces.
Keep moving forward,
PICTURE THIS: A group of end-of-the-year 5th graders, sit expectantly as their differently-abled classmate struggles to begin his TED Talk. “You got this!” They tell him, as his eyes begin to fill with tears, and then he asks, “Can Remy* stand next to me?” Sure enough, a very tall 5th grader pops up and stands directly in front of him. “Just tell your talk to me. Don’t worry about anyone else.” He says encouragingly. And bolstered by his friend and his classmates, he does just that.
THIS. This is why you want your child to go to a school that includes EVERYONE. The level of patience and compassion that they will game cannot be calculated. Another one of my students a deeply compassionate 4th grader gets anxious every time I switch groups. “You will keep Paul* and me together, right, Mrs. Ellison?” His friend is also differently-abled and he always wants to make sure that he is near Paul so that he can support him.
My own Offspring were stunned as they left our inclusive, supportive elementary school to discover that other schools had different approaches with differently-abled students. They were genuinely surprised if they saw someone tease or lose their patience with them simply because they hadn’t really seen it before. It perplexed them. “They should know that they need extra time.” My son wants told me. “Why don’t they get that?” The answer to his question is simple; they had no experience with students who didn’t fit the expected mold.
I love our school. You’ve probably figured it out by now. If you were to see it you would think it looks like any other school built back in the 40s. We got a new paint job last year, and got some gorgeous new furniture, but our school is pretty old. No one would look at it and think, “You can see it! This place is AMAZING!” But it is amazing. Our administration is amazing. Our teachers are amazing. Our after school care team is amazing. We are a hidden gem.
In the same way that people can look at the outside of kid and make assumptions, missing out on all the incredible depths of intelligence and creativity hidden within. People can look at the outside of our school and miss out on something that is truly unique. If you come to our school, you will not only receive a solid education but they also get to experience a true community. We are a community of learners who try to find ways to encourage, support and uplift all learners; helping everyone to build on their strengths, and strengthen areas of growth. It might be Day 170 out of 179, but we are still here - working, learning, supporting each other and we strive every single day to . . .
Keep moving forward,
*all names have been changed
HOW MANY DAYS ARE LEFT was a question that greeted me this morning. I blinked four times and tried to figure it out. I know that it is definitely more than 6 because the yearbooks will be delivered in 6 days. The most important issue for me, of course, is making sure the yearbooks get here BEFORE the last day of school. That is pretty crucial. It turns out we are in the lower double-digits — 12 or something like that — without counting weekends.
Today I pulled out a the new reader for my next year’s class. I wanted to start wrapping my brain around next year, even as I finish up this year. One of my reading students saw the book. “Are we getting a new book?” She asked. I explained I was thinking about next year. “So was my homeroom teacher. You guys never stop.” True Story.
I was explaining to someone, AGAIN, that teachers do NOT GET PAID TO DO NOTHING during the summer months. We have a small portion of our paychecks set aside all year long, so that we can have a paycheck in the summer. Our paycheck in the summer consist of money we already earned. On top of which, teachers work in the summer. We will be cleaning, finishing paperwork, and reorganizing after the students have left the building on the last day. And many of us will spend our summers, planning, researching, meeting and attending training sessions. The work doesn’t end.
SPEAKING OF WORK THAT DOESN’T END, all it took was a notification of FREE DELIVERY for Door Dash for me to cave and order dinner. I really try to cook every single night because family dinner is so important. Every now and then, I forget to defrost something, and the temptation to order becomes pretty intense. I had a really late lunch today, too, so I was really NOT motivated to cook. All of which are pretty lame excuses, but there you have it. Also, if you have never, ever had Filipi’s Garlic Knots, I can’t even explain to you how delicious they are.
So, the clock is ticking. It is day 169, and I only have a few more days with me students. Some have their eye on the door knowing that soon it will be summer. For some of these students the impending summer days, fill them with all kinds of restless energy, and for others it fills them with anxiety and nervousness. School is a safe place for tons of kids. They can consistently expect two meals a day, and a steady routine where they are nurtured and responsible only for themselves. This can make those last few days more challenging as students feel unsettled and excited. It takes thought and clarity to keep that learning train going. “You guys are wearing me out, today.” I told my reading class. One of my sweet 4th graders responded, “We are making sure your brain works until the very last day.” I am going to take this as a compliment. Either way, I am going to . . .
Keep moving forward,
ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about our student TED Talks is that the room is filled with the sound of my student’s voices. Today was another round of talks, and the first day of my reading classes’ talks. My reading class has worked on this project longer than anyone, and so their talks have graphics, and are more detailed than my technology students’ talks. I was sitting beside one of my third graders today; they were responsible for running the camera (we film the talks so students can watch themselves later), and just listening to everything. At that specific moment my students were giving feedback to the student who had just completed their talk. We have two ways to give feedback: Students can say “I like . . .” and provide a specific compliment regarding the speech, or they can say “I wonder. . .” which provides a way for them to ask a question. The student beside me was struggling to share his thoughts. It sounded something like this, “I like how . . . I mean I like the way . . . the way. . . during your talking . . .” It was a moment that seemed to stretch for awhile, and I thought, “He just needs more time.” I didn’t just mean time to finish his sentence, but time to talk. He need practice expressing his ideas out loud.
SPOILER: Kids are really young. I remember once, a coworker from another school was expressing his frustration over his students. He kept complaining about their immaturity and how they acted - giggling and spending all their time thinking about the dumbest things - sports, girls, boys, and movies. It was at this point in the conversation that I found myself having to say, “Well, they are kids, you know?” He shook his head and stormed off, probably now frustrated with me. But I think sometimes people forget that students are - you know, KIDS. This was especially true during the years I taught high school, but when you hit thirty you begin to understand that fourteen is really, really young.
I enjoyed sitting back and watching them interact with one another. One student would run the camera, basically calling the whole class. They would tell everyone else to quiet down, and then count backwards - 3, 2, 1 and then point a finger at the speaker. The best part was that no one kid got to run the camera. After the speaker finished, they would pick their replacement and take over filming; everyone got an opportunity to be in charge.
The feedback they gave each other was specific, too. It wasn’t, “I like your speech. It was good.” Instead students said things like, “I like that you started with a story, but then had research to make your point,” and “I wonder why you didn’t say why you love basketball so much.” We had practiced giving feedback and had discussed what makes feedback powerful and effective and it was good to see it in action.
Here’s my TED Talk highlights:
A struggling reader who created a thoughtful and beautiful talk about the positive impact of drawing, quoting multiple articles to support her ideas. These quotes included words far beyond the reach of her vocabulary, but she not only pronounced them correctly and easily (thanks to all that practice) but she understood them. Her desire to share her thoughts about art pushed her to reach well beyond her own reading level.
A very shy student volunteering to speak, and speaking with a bold, clear voice. After she took her turn, two other shy girls also volunteered and during feedback time, she told them each. “I like your bravery. You got up there and spoke.”
A good friend gave me a new book as birthday present. It is a picture book entitled “Say Something” and it is an amazing book about finding and using your voice. I love every page and every word of it, and read it to my students before they began their talk. If that wasn’t good enough, the book is dedicated to Emma Gonzalez. SWOON
Two boys who wrote their talk together, and took turns explaining how they became best friends before going on to explain the value of friendship. They tag-teamed the speaking and the story. Kid 1: When I started Kindergarten, I was nervous, but then I looked up . and saw this kid. Kid 2: I was sitting at my desk on that first day, and I saw another boy across the room and I thought, “I wonder if we can be friends?” It was adorable.