Saturday, August 26, 2017

"My" Kids

If you talk to me about my teaching, you will often hear me refer to the students as "my" kids. I'm not trying to be possessive or claim ownership (I know they are all "our" kids) - it's just my way of sharing the place that they have found in my heart! Any kid that comes into my classroom becomes one of "my" kids, no matter how long they are there. But, being a music teacher, I often get to work with students for 3-4 years. When that happens, they really become "my" kids!

When I found out I would be leaving my music-teaching job, my mind turned to how to best prepare them for a transition them to a new teacher. Some of the things I was able to do included:

  • Assuring them that the school would hire an awesome teacher for them!
  • Having honest conversations with them about how a new person would be different, and that's okay, as well as how the new teacher will have different strengths and weaknesses than me, and they will learn a lot that I couldn't teach them!
  • Giving students the option to write letters to me (for closure) or the new teacher (to introduce themselves & share their perspective on orchestra) instead of our regular end-of-year reflection assignment.
  • Telling students that they can still contact me if needed - they have my email!
  • Advocating for a student to be on the interview committee, to hopefully create instant buy-in to the new teacher from at least one student (and the rest would follow).
  • Leaving notes for the new teacher, especially a few ideas for kids who might just need a little extra love :-).

The best part of teaching, for me, is developing relationships with "my" kids. Stepping away was (and still is) hard. Intentionally preparing to "pass them off" was hard. I don't regret it - they have an amazing new teacher and I'm loving where I am at now - but I still miss them.

This week, I had the opportunity to see many of "my" kids as I was out in the schools. It was both refreshing and bittersweet at the same time. The smiles and hugs and "Ms. Yeh!"s made my day. Yet these kids aren't really mine anymore. They have moved on and settled in with their new teacher. I love this - it's the best thing I could hope for them. But, selfishly, it makes me a little sad, too. More than anything, it has reminded me of how special our time with students is.

Teachers, you get to create something so precious in your classrooms. 

The culture, the relationships, the routines, the inside jokes, and the atmosphere - the classroom environment is something to be treasured. I always found that, while my classes were similar, I had a unique bond with each group that could not be replicated anywhere else! I could teach that same class again, but it wouldn't feel quite the same. That's the beauty of teaching a class full of individuals, with their own hopes, dreams, and quirks.

I know that days can drag on, lesson plans and grading can seem endless, answering certain parent emails/phone calls can be arduous, and behavioral issues can be challenging. But, please, don't lose sight of how special these moments are. "Your" kids deserve it!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#Goals 2017-2018

As the school year gets underway, I see many posts about my friends' goals for the year. It's a bit like New Year resolutions for teachers, actually - August/September brings a fresh start and the chance to refocus! I have been thinking along the same lines, but have struggled to define goals for myself because I am still really learning this new job! In many ways, though, that has pushed me to what is most important. Here are some of my goals for the 2017-2018 school year:

1. Encourage

Couldn't we all use a little more encouragement in our lives? One thing I want to commit to, no matter where I am in life, is being an encourager! In this specific role, I am constantly giving teachers gentle pushes to think differently, to change, and to move beyond their comfort zone. Along with that needs to come the support and celebration when they do that! Because, truly, change is hard. And we need to celebrate even the small moments that add up to bigger change. Beyond my work, though, this is just the kind of person I want to be. Somebody who notices others, who lifts them up, and who spreads joy.

2. Learn

Being a learner is another lifelong skill that I want to develop! Being in a new job gives me ample opportunities for learning, as does the ever-changing field of technology. But it's more than just the content. One of my favorite things this past week has been the ability to go into several different classrooms and see what is going on - this is a luxury I never had as a teacher! It is amazing to see so many teachers with different styles, and there is something to be learned from everyone! I always want to keep a growth mindset and never become too comfortable with where I am at. My new role has brought the need to learn and grow to the forefront of my mind, but this is another trait that I want to develop in all areas of life.

3. Lead

Of course, everything circles back to my #oneword2017: LEAD. Leading from a new position can be hard. I still feel unsure about so many things, but by the nature of my job, I am being placed in a position of leadership (the same thing happened this summer). My natural tendency is to sit back, watch, and listen at first, but I'm not sure I'll have the chance to do that. In that case, I want to be willing to step up and lead as best I can! The good news: I am much more comfortable with this than I was a year ago - being a principal for a summer will do that to you. I hope I can lead in many ways - both those that are obvious and up front and those that are less seen, but no less important. I want to lead in my work, but more importantly, I want to be someone worth following in the way I live my life and interact with people.

As I look back over these goals, I almost think this post could be renamed #lifegoals. Leading, learning, and encouraging are not limited to my job, but traits I want to develop wherever I go! These objectives may not be the type that go in my formal evaluation, and they don't quite meet the criteria for SMART goals, but they are some very important things I want to focus on this school year.

What are you focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Any time there is a change, it offers a chance for reflection. My current transition from being in the classroom to being in more of a support role is no exception. People always ask, "How's the new job going?" As I have thought about the changes I am experiencing, four main themes stick out. I would caution against thinking that one role is "better" or "worse", because really, they are just two different sides of the same coin of giving the best experience we can to our kiddos in school!


At first glance, this is probably the most obvious difference. My days are no longer ruled by bell schedules and passing periods, and I don't have to plan my bathroom trips around plan time! While the flexibility is nice, sometimes it can be daunting. I have a lot of projects to work on, and it's up to me to prioritize, decide how much time to devote to each task, and structure my time well. The summer is a particularly slow time, and I really appreciated the days where I had meetings to break up the big chunks of work time. Sitting in an office all day, working independently, is a shock to the system after teaching! Of course, now that the school year is starting up, I am having the opposite problem - lots of meetings and professional development to lead, and very little work time! I know it will continue to ebb and flow as the school year gets underway.


Classroom teaching is such an independent job. Sure, I had my music team, and my district orchestra team, but we would come together and plan and then go execute, with our own kids, in our own classrooms. It was pretty clear what each of our roles was, and there wasn't really the opportunity to divide and conquer. For the first time, I am working closely with a team, and I love it! The support, the camaraderie, and the thoughtfulness about our work are all top notch. I also appreciate that my team is comprised of people who are not afraid to push my thinking or probe deeper. For the first time, I feel like I can honestly look at my strengths and weaknesses and see how they fit together into the whole. It takes pressure off to not have to be strong in everything, which is sometimes how I felt as a teacher!


This is another pretty obvious one, but a big difference is in the scope of the work I am doing. While I was often involved in school-wide or district-wide initiatives when I was teaching, the majority of my focus went toward the kids in my class (which is absolutely how it should be). Now, I am working on projects that are district-wide or even wider in scope! This point definitely has pros and cons - I love seeing the bigger picture and setting up sustainable systems, but I do miss those little sweet moments that only come through seeing kids day in and day out. Overall, though, it is exciting to work with a wide variety of people who see things not just as they currently are, but as they could be in the future.


My last observation is difficult for me to write. In my new position, there are great systems of support. I have both the resources I need and the interpersonal support to navigate challenging situations - and it's because there are systems set in place to provide this framework. This is so different than how I felt as a teacher, where I felt like I had to fight for everything. And that makes me so sad! It shouldn't be this way, but I know my story is not unique. Often, whether teachers feel supported or not depends greatly on the specific person or people who are in leadership at the time. We need great leaders, to be sure, but nobody lasts forever - how can we set up good systems to act as that safety net, regardless of what particular person is in that role? This is my challenge as I step into a role that is supporting educators in the district - finding ways that I can help create sustainable systems of support. Of course we want amazing leaders, and of course I want to help people the best I can in this role, but if the entire system is dependent on me (or the leader, or whomever else is in a specific role), we really have done ourselves a disservice. True systemic change extends beyond one person. I'm grateful for the systems that have been set in place that I am benefiting from now, and I want to leave the same legacy for others.

Whether you are in a new role or returning to the same position, the beginning of the year is a great time for reflection. What are you noticing and focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Friday Five - Revised!

Friday Five: The Original

Last school year, I really made an effort to increase my connection with my students' families, which can be tough when you have 250+ students! I sent out a monthly newsletter and utilized the email lists to send not only announcements, but updates on what we were learning in class as well. One of my favorite things that I did was implement a "Friday Five".

I heard about the idea on social media, and it seemed so simple - every Friday, call or email five families, sharing something positive about their student from the week. Kids do cool stuff all of the time - I figured it wouldn't be hard to remember five good things and quickly pass them on! It got a little tricky to track it and make sure I was choosing different students every week, but once I got my system down, it worked well. Every week, before I left work on Friday, the last thing I did was my Friday Five.

I received so much great feedback about this! Parents were very appreciative of hearing from the school about good things, not only when things were going awry, and students would shyly (but proudly) come up and tell me how happy their parents were with them. I always felt good ending the week on a positive note, and it truly helped me deepen the connection with my students' families. Plus, it cost me nothing!

Friday Five: Take Two

This year, I am in a non-teaching position, my office is not at a school, and I will have much less consistent contact with students. I want to continue some form of the Friday Five, but obviously it will have to look a little different! As I pondered this, I really had to back up to the core purpose of my Friday Five. There was nothing magical about the day (Friday) or the number (Five), but it was a chance to acknowledge others' good work, build relationships, and spread encouragement. Those goals are not limited to students - we can all benefit from them! This has helped me shape my new vision for Friday Five this year.

I want to take time each Friday to acknowledge something that somebody did well or that really helped me out that week. Maybe it will be one person, maybe it will be five - I haven't quite figured that out yet. It might be a teacher, it might be one of my teammates, or it might be a student/parent if I have been in their classroom! The structure of this is much looser, but the heart of it remains the same. Spread encouragement and joy. Recognize what people do well. It's so easy to get sucked into complaining, and this is one huge way to combat it with focusing on the positive moments!

Friday Five:The Challenge

How will you encourage others this year? How can you build a habit of focusing on the positives rather than the negatives? How can you continue to connect and build relationships, no matter where you are?

Because, in the end, it's not about the structure -
it's about the people!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Give and Take

The morning...

This morning, I had the privilege of helping out at my district's New Educator Orientation (NEO). It was so exciting to see all of the new teachers and feel the energy in the room! For a little over an hour, our IT team worked with teachers to get them set up on their new Chromebooks and logged in to many of the websites and apps we use regularly.

I left NEO feeling so energized! As I was reflecting on why, I went through a list of reasons in my head. The people piece definitely fed my social side, I enjoyed meeting new people, and I actually didn't find myself feeling that nervous standing up in front of the crowd, which felt like a victory. But more than anything, I really appreciated being able to help someone out. To make someone's day better. To make something easier for someone. To remove a little bit of their stress.

The afternoon...

Fast forward a couple of hours, and I was feeling stressed out with everything that needed to be done to kick off the school year. Our team is launching a number of projects, and I know that all of us are feeling stretched as we try to cover everything. I came into an afternoon meeting sat down, and took a deep breath.

One of my teammates asked me how I was doing, and I shared that I was just feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything. Her immediate response: "What can I do to help?" I felt so encouraged and blessed by her response (especially knowing that we are all so busy right now) - her desire to make my day better. To make something easier for me. To remove a little bit of my stress.

How much better would all of our lives be if we took a moment to put aside our own worries and open our eyes to the world around us? It doesn't take much - just a little gesture to help someone else out can make their day!