Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teaching with Heart A Place for Every Kid to Hang A Hat

     Have you ever known with your whole heart that you had to do something? Something that maybe everyone else in your world is telling you not to do, that it is too challenging for you or too risky?  Yet, your heart kept telling you that you just had to give this new thing a try. This for me was special education. I had been groomed to be a nurse, but my heart told me that there were kids in schools who needed me. I went with my heart. I don't tell this story often, but I was born over two months early way back in 1961! On my third day of life my heart stopped beating and a miracle brought me back. My parents had little hope of me ever being "normal" due to the combination of my prematurity and the lack of oxygen to my tender brain. I was in  the hospital for a very long time. I however never lived a day of suffering due to my not so gentle entrance into the world. I hit every milestone on time. I did well in school. I was accepted into college, and I chose the field that everyone told me not to: Special Education. My question to all of my doubters, was how could I not help children who were not as fortunate as me? If I had not beat the odds, I would hope that someone who genuinely cared would be my champion and teach me how to navigate in the world as much as possible. I just had to be this person for the countless number of children who need extra support and specially created lessons to learn.
   Two years ago, I made another life change and went from being a resource room teacher to a self-contained classroom teacher. My work load more than doubled I'd say! I was now responsible to teach English, math, social studies, science, reading, and life skills to twelve very diverse children all on different levels . I planned all summer long and carefully read their IEP's. I wanted to do right by these children. I differentiated their lessons. I planned for every second of the day. I created a behavior /task oriented program to keep everyone focused and engaged. I made sure that the children came first and in this equation that every child felt as if s/he was the star. 
    I created a room of mutual respect. I wanted each child treated with kindness and understanding. We of course have our scuffles but in every set back is a lesson to be learned, a coping strategy to be created, and from this comes growth. In my classroom I take the good with the bad and cherish each child everyday regardless if it was a positive day for the child or not. Sometimes a unproductive day is a stepping stone to the next stage of growth, the next insight, and understanding after a long reflection. There is good in everyone and in every situation even when you can't see it from the onset. I am so thankful that I took on the challenge of these twelve amazing children. I am in year two with them. We have become a family. We are a family who sometimes disagree but in the end, we are there for each other. We matter. We know that every day, no matter what kind of day it is that each of us has  a place to hang our hat.
      This brings me to a wonderful lady named Jena Ball who came into my life and the lives of my students at just the right moment.  Since my students are special education students they often feel less than perfect. They aren't the best readers, or test takers, or the best in sports, chorus or drama. The thing they are best at is diligence. They never give up! They work so hard everyday! They are inquisitive and they want to learn! They simply amaze me! They are at a point though, that they needed a lift.  They need someone to tell them that they are doing good and they need not to compete against each other to be "top dog".  They need some one to tell them that it's okay to be one of a kind and do things in their own way and in their own time. Then unexpectedly, Miss Jena and her business partner Marty Keltz walk into our lives! Wow! Miss Jena's Not Perfect Hat Club, teaches kids that perfection is not an option and that is perfectly okay. Miss Jena is an author and illustrator who writes the CritterKin Tales.  Miss Jena visited many schools with her CritterKins and heard students repeatedly saying negative things about themselves and their work. She decided that it was clear that she needed to find a way to help kids set aside their judgements and trust themselves in their work. Thus, the Not Perfect Hat Club was born! 
      Being launched in conjunction with The Global Classroom Project,* The Not Perfect Hat Club is both an illustrated children's book and a project based learning initiative being shared with kids around the world. Jena is not only writing and illustrating the book, but developing creative activities and tools that will allow parents, teachers and kids to share their "Not Perfect" experiences with others. A global initiative dedicated to helping teachers and students connect with and learn from one another. Through Jena and Marty, I have met amazing educators from all over the world who like me are teaching academics combined with empathy, compassion, and mutual respect for everyone.
     As we wait for Miss Jena's Skype visit next week, we discuss all of the wonderful ways that we are perfectly not perfect and we celebrate this process! Today we wrote paragraphs and colored hats for our bulletin board
     Ironically, Out of twelve students, I have two who don't feel perfect enough for Miss Jena's visit. They are concerned about Skype being live and that they will be less than perfect for her visit.  Since Miss Jena leads with her heart I am not worried. With gentle encouragement these two students will be successful. Miss Jena and our Not Perfect Hat Club will work magic and show these two young men that there is nothing to fear. They will gain confidence from this experience and will take home a memory of a day that they were worried but had success just from being themselves. What a powerful message. 
     I now know with my whole heart that special education was my calling and meeting Miss Jena and being able to share her heart and wisdom with my students was just met to be. I will write again to share all about our visit with Miss Jena and to share our bulletin board filled with Not Perfect Hat Club members who have been touched by Miss Jena's wisdom.

     If you'd like to know more about the place where every child can hang a hat, The Not Perfect Hat Club Global Project, you can find Jena at:
Follow Jena on Twitter at:  you will be so glad that you did!