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No White Flag

 

Would you come with me on this beautiful, rugged journey of education as I attempt to learn from my failures, challenges, and successes?  I invite you to pull on your best walking shoes, and gear up for the course.  I guarantee it will be rough, scary, confrontational, and worth its full reward.

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I walk you into this journey  to a time when the challenges beneath my feet were ready to halt me for the long haul.  I am walking you into my path three years ago.  I was teaching a class of 18 first graders in a Title I school in Keller, Texas.

I was passionate about my calling.  Radically passionate.  I worked long hours planning lessons, reflecting on lessons, and striving to go above and beyond to reach every kid.  I found myself ready to quit and raise my white flag and surrender my calling.  Why would I give up a calling I was so passionate about, you may wonder.  I tirelessly worked to instill a love for learning, a message of value, and a hope for a future within my students.  They were more than my students, as I let them know.  They were my classroom family.  The moment my students made their names on my roster, I let my students and their families know they were a part of something BIGGER.  It was bigger than me, and bigger than them.  I needed them to know that I possessed no greater a part in my classroom than their child did. This hope was driving me, and I had seen the impact I was making. I had successfully connected with many students and families – helping children create goals for their own behavior and navigate their own success. Parents who had acquired caustic tastes towards education began to shift towards finding it more palatable, and I watched in awe as their tastes changed.  Stoic parents let their guard down as they trusted me with their child and allowed themselves to be refilled with hope for education.  Students whose behavior was disruptive to the classroom environment, gained emotional tools needed to self-regulate.  I felt empowered and hopeful for the future of my students.

But, there were times this future did not declare its hope so brightly.  The voice of hope began to be muffled in the ears of my heart that had led me so well.  “You’re not making a difference,” my heart seemed to say.  “They won’t stay changed,” the haunting thoughts seemed to be taunting me.  One child’s behavior, in particular, seemed to push a button that made these thoughts even LOUDER until it was all I could hear.  She came to me with a very troubled past, a stifled present, and what seemed an even bleaker future.   The trouble was, I thought I had made so much progress in this child’s life, and it seemed I had.  Towards the end of the school year, I learned they were moving away from our district and far away from Texas.  Fear drowned out any voices of hope I had for this child. I nurtured these fears and coddled them until they grew so big, they were all that surrounded me.  “Who will care for her when she moves away?”  I cried to myself and to our school counselor.  As her move approached and the school year’s conclusion intersected with this path, she began to act out worse than I had ever seen.  “I just want to die,” she yelled one day in class.  With heavy heart, I said good-bye to her at the end of the school year, getting her address and hoping to stay in touch.

The problem was, I had allowed myself to become disconnected from my source of hope. The voice of hope was so distant, I couldn’t locate it.  Fears blanketed my ears like headphones drowning out any other voices.  With despair, I sought prayer from my friends, asking them to pray for the future of this child who had woven her way into my heart.  As tears began to fall, and I shared the pain and fears I had for this child, a little tap on my heart disturbed me from my grief.  “Don’t you know that  I care for her more than you do?”  The Lord prodded at my heart.  It was then that I realized I was not trusting the one who placed this child in my life along with the calling in my heart to take care of His own child.  I was playing God, thinking I knew her future better than He.   I surrendered my fears and felt the burden lift away from me, and as it did, voices of fears I had owned as my own tore away, as well. I realized, with great relief, those thoughts that muffled my hope, were not my own thoughts.  There is an enemy who wants to destroy your hopes and calling, and he almost destroyed mine.

The Lord gave me the promise of 1 Corinthians 3:6 for my classroom, and that promise leads me with hope. It’s not my job to make the fruit grow. He will take care of the increase. It is my job to take care of the seeds.

Shortly after this hope was rebirthed, I learned a little more about the tap root of an oak tree.  Did you realize it can take up to three years before you see the buds of the oak tree emerge from the ground? Does that mean it’s not growing in that interim?  Certainly not, and when we don’t see the growth we want to see (or think we should see) in our students, maybe it’s because it’s growing beneath the surface like a hearty Oak Tree, whose roots must go deep.  I’ll do my job to nurture the seed, and I am not quitting.

 

Jessica Chandler

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1 Corinthians 3:6 – I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

 

What Love Looks Like

 

Tomorrow, I’ll turn the page on the second week of school.  My heart is so full. I have 46 fifth graders and have given away my heart 46 times in the last two weeks.  “I love you,” came off of my lips before the objectives were even discussed.  I am driven by the belief that I have to reach these kids before I can teach these kids.  I am not trying to convince them of my love for them as a ploy to get them to pay attention. I NEED them to know that I love them. It’s a message that is as important as the content.  I need them to know I believe in them.

I had a teacher who was struggling with classroom management compliment me once at how kind my kids always are.  I am honored by the compliment, but I want to share the secret: I’m not lucky; this kindness is intentionally built into my classroom.  

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I’ve spent a lot of time observing patterns, and I have been able to identify some predictable responses.  When the classroom begins to take shape, and celebrations are shared, complimenting a child for the appropriate behavior, a trigger reaction predictably follows with, “I did it too” or “What about me?”  Knowing these reactions are slated to follow, I now stop them before they arise. Like a mind-reading soothsayer, I announce, “instead of whining that you did it too, what would love look like?” Puzzled faces usually follow my probing, as a confused audience stumbles to figure out how I read their minds.  After a bit of a delay, answers begin to organically arise, and the formation of what “love looks like” begins to make its mark upon my classroom family. The boos are replaced with cheers, and I introduce my favorite classroom cheers, that have taken shape over the years, many being passed down from the generations of our family before them.  As these cheers layer upon each other, a culture of love begins to weave its way into the walls of our classroom, and walls around hearts are torn down as we all begin to trust each other and realize this IS a safe place. The layers of love and trust go too deep to share them all in this post, but I urge you to find what “love looks like” in your classrooms, and allow the members of your classroom family to have an active voice in what that looks like.  

With a full heart,

Jessica

Spilt Cereal and Broken Glass

Ⓦhen the new school year arrives next month, and I open my door to a new wave of students joining my classroom family, I will begin creating a family culture driven by intention.  I want my students to take ownership in creating this culture and express themselves freely, but there are a few caveats from which I cannot budge: we 𝕔𝕖𝕝𝕖𝕓𝕣𝕒𝕥𝕖 𝕖𝕒𝕔𝕙 𝕠𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣, we 𝕔𝕙𝕠𝕠𝕤𝕖 𝕝𝕠𝕧𝕖 𝕚𝕟 𝕒𝕝𝕝 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕨𝕖 𝕕𝕠, and we 𝕖𝕞𝕓𝕣𝕒𝕔𝕖 𝕞𝕚𝕤𝕥𝕒𝕜𝕖𝕤.  I taught my kindergarten and first grade classes about the joy of mistakes, and drew them inside the fireworks display that takes place in their brains when mistakes happened.  They understood that when we learn from a mistake, not just one but TWO connections are made and there is an explosion of synapses firing in our brains. They hunted for mistakes with the fervor of a young child on an Easter egg hunt.  Throughout any given day, cheers could be heard of, “Yea! I made a mistake!” They owned this celebration with intensity because they knew it was safe to make a mistake.  

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My 9-year old daughter, Landry, has been “vacationing” at my sister’s house for the past few days.  My sister is the picture of a laid back mom, and I admire her go-with-the-flow ease with which she embraces life.  Just the other day, when the bottom fell out, and rain ruined their plans outside, she embraced the unexpected weather by inviting the kids to jump with her on the trampoline in the rain.  Last night, at the end of my sister’s rope of energy, she hadn’t the pep to cook, and cereal was offered up as the menu. Landry was enjoying her cereal from a thin plastic bowl, when just a little tip of her hand knocked the bowl of cereal about the table and across my sister’s floor. As milk filled my sister’s floor, fear brimmed in my daughter’s eyes.  Approaching Landry, and seeing the fear on her face, my sister comforted her the way she tackles everything – with a joke. “You better not be the only one throwing cereal on my floor,” she jokingly warned, and threw a handful of cereal all over her floor. She watched with comfort as a smile stretched across my daughter’s face. If that wasn’t enough, she picked up the milk, and splashed it about the mess that marked my daughter’s mistake, sending the message, “It’s okay to make a mistake…you’re safe here.”  

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When my sister shared what she had done, she shared the story with a bit of chagrin, thinking I would think she is a bit “Fruit-Loopy” herself.  Far from that, I thought of how I wouldn’t have had a knee-jerk reaction of grace, and I responded with awe and encouragement. It left me wondering, “Am I splashing down the milk with the kids in my life?  Am I picking up the cereal and laughing with them?”  I have paved careful steps to set my students up, not for a smooth path with no stumbling blocks, but one where they know it’s okay if they fall.  My sister’s actions challenged me though, to look even deeper at my parenting, my teaching, and the way I embrace my own mistakes. It’s just a little cereal.

As she shared of the spilt cereal and thrown milk, it took me back to the model of embracing mistakes I had in my life.
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I am reminded of when I was a young child, trying to embrace independence, and I ventured into the kitchen to demonstrate this independence attempting to pour myself a glass of orange juice.  To save a dime we kept the frozen, canned orange juice on hand. My mother had mixed up a fresh pitcher of it for my siblings and me. I delicately pulled the mixed juice out of the fridge and hoisted it up shakily as I began to flow fourth with my independence.  No sooner had my pride of self-reliance found its way across my face than the shock of my grip’s failure demanded my smile cease. The glass shattered before my face and my smile fell with it. Fear came all over me as I realized what I had done. Knowing I had not asked for permission, and realizing as shards of glass surrounded me that I had broken my mama’s pitcher, I wanted to run.  Alarmed by the sound of breaking glass, my mama came running. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I cried, trying to interrupt any chiding that may be headed my way. I’ll never forget the gentle way my mother scooted me out of the way, smiled tenderly at me, and responded, “It’s okay, it’s just glass. I’m glad you’re okay, baby.” That moment marked me forever, and guides me as a mother and an educator. Mistakes are just like the broken glass – let’s guard the hearts of the people behind them, clean up the glass and move on.

As we make the shift into the next school year, I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to throw down the cereal with the kids and show them how okay it is to make mistakes. I am entering a new grade level, and I’m holding my head up with the shakiness I held that orange juice pitcher as a young child, but if I fall in this process, I can hear the reassurance of my mama’s voice, “it’s okay,” and it reminds me of how safe it is, even amidst broken glass, let’s embrace the mistakes together.

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