Monday, October 3, 2016

Comfort Zones

                                                                           Comfort Zones
Comfort zones…we all love them.  It’s where we feel confident…where we feel we can be most productive…where we know what’s going to happen and won’t have to face many challenges.  While comfort zones are where we feel our best, there are times when we need to step out of our comfort zones in an effort to dig deeper within ourselves and reach our full potential.  Often times, as teachers we want to challenge our students to help them reach their fullest potential.   We as teachers try daily to move our students out of their comfort zones, but what about us?  We too need to step out on a limb and accept risks and challenges.
I have had my own personal experience with comfort zones and this has challenged me greatly. When I began my teaching career, I was given one 8th Grade Algebra 1 and three 8th Grade Pre-Algebra classes.  While all students took a standardized test, I was very concerned about my 8th Grade Algebra class because they had to take an End of Course Test and it counted as 20% of their final grade.  I knew that these results were going to reflect how much my students learned and how well I taught them.  With butterflies in my stomach, the day came for my students to be tested and they all passed! I was thrilled!  I felt as if all of my hard work and dedication paid off.  100% passing rate!
The next school year I was given two 8th Grade Algebra 1 classes.  I already struggled with doubting my abilities as a teacher and now I would be given another class that would have to take the End of Course Test. Whew!  Someone believed in me and I am grateful, but to whom much is given, much is required.  With reservation, I accepted the challenge.  Someone saw much more in me than I saw in myself.   Once I began to believe in myself, I saw a few more years of 100% passing rate by my students.
 I am now teaching three Algebra 1 classes which includes two 7th Grade classes.  I have never taught 7th grade, so I naturally had a fear of the unknown.  Many people painted a negative picture of Seventh Graders to me and it discouraged me.  I prayed about the move and was reminded that no growth can take place within comfort zones, it is not until we are challenged that we find out what we are capable of.  After being questioned by others, I realized that I was doing exactly what I should be. 
My leap of faith paid off because I love what I am now doing.  I love my 7th graders just as much as I love my 8th graders.  I love seeing their glowing faces when they come into my room and have “aha!” moments while I’m teaching.  Although we have only been in school for about a month, I have learned that I do not want to just sit in my comfort zone, but I would rather accept a challenge and fail knowing that I gave it my best shot than to live knowing that I never tried to be better.  After all, you can never fail outside of your comfort zone, it is simply a new learning experience that promotes growth.
Outside of our comfort zones is the knowledge of who we are and what we can become.   Our potential is never realized in times of comfort and ease, rather only in difficulty, change and challenge.   Although you may love your comfort zone, if you want to grow personally and professionally, step outside of it, feel the thrill, enjoy the moment, and continue to grow. 

Ms. Starlings
7th & 8th Grade Math
Hand Middle School

Monday, September 26, 2016

Manage with the Right Mindset

Manage with the Right Mindset

We spend so much time planning and being proactive, thinking about how we assess our students, and what we will do if they don't show mastery or if they do show mastery. Behavior and classroom management must follow the same continual improvement process. Teachers and administrators must plan and practice management scenarios, “expect” students to ask for materials at inopportune times, to arrive to class without a pass or with food in their mouths, to be playing a game on their laptops, to shout back when redirected in front of a whole group, and to even simply refuse to complete work. These aren’t instances that should create visual frustration, verbal shock, and a heated staff-student interaction. This “type” of encounter is more than what it appears, and it represents the realization that schools must differentiate for management.

We (schools and staff) must teach kids how to live in our world because, sadly, so much of theirs does not involve the need to recognize and take responsibility. 16 hours a day outside of classroom walls, students can post, snap, text, and tweet responses without having to explain themselves, and rarely are they held accountable. Adult-student relationships are no longer cemented in the minds of our kids- teachers have become partners and likes, and followers, out of touch observers, and often mirror images of reactive officials. Knowing all of this, and interacting with the youth of today doesn't change our expectations- instead it ignites our approach to create social emotional systems that focus on the goals and rights of each child.

Interventions and actions can't simply be a warning, a phone call, a lunch detention, a referral, and a “rinse and repeat stance.” We don't teach by saying, “here is what you will learn, you will learn it, your parents now know you will learn it, and if you don't learn it, I'm telling the principal.” We must incorporate mindfulness, intentional thought, peer mediation, restorative justice, and community conversation into our new social-emotional approach. It is not about saying, “you must follow these rules because I said so and your future job requires you to do this”…it is all about saying, “ we have created this together so we can learn how to live well in each moment and with each choice in our lives.” As all teachers know, behavior is a response to instruction, yet we cannot achieve success until we all celebrate a growth mindset for each of our kids. We are all responsible for what our students learn, we are all responsible for how they behave, and we owe it to everyone to manage with the right mindset.

Charlie Seamans
Assistant Principal
6 Grade Academy Leader

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I Support You!

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou

We have all been through a lot of changes. Sometimes I think changes are difficult and wished they didn’t happen. Even though I am an adult, I struggle with change sometimes.  Sometimes I wish I could see the future to figure out where all of this is going. However, that is not the way life is set up. Change happens no matter how much we try to fight it.

However, change can be a great thing. For example, Mrs. Wise stepped out of the classroom to travel all of South Carolina to talk with teachers, students, and administrators. I know she misses all of us, but this change allows her to experience things she would have never before dreamed. Instead of fighting the change, she embraced it and went boldly into her calling. We can use her experience as an example for our lives.

Sometimes we resist change because we are so comfortable in our routine of life. The ‘we have always done it this way’ mentality gets very comfortable, and we often miss out on some of the greatest things because we don’t want to open our eyes to other possibilities. This school year has brought about a lot of changes with the new administration, teachers, and friends. I’ve had to step into more of a leadership role this year and to be honest with you, I have avoided this previously because I was comfortable just being me. However, becoming a leader has opened up more opportunities and introduced me to some amazing people. I have learned that just being me, isn’t being the GREATEST me! Change has developed me into someone stronger and wiser.

Teaching and learning are always changing and advancing. Our lives are about changing from day to day, and no two days are ever the same. As a teacher, I get apprehensive about letting go of my previous year’s students because I am so used to their attitudes, behaviors, and personalities. With a new group, I do not know what to expect. However, every year, I get a group of kids who I really like, and they make teaching worthwhile.

I am learning just like you to become comfortable with the many changes we face in our lives. Even though change can be uncomfortable, it helps to build us into a newer version of ourselves. Do not stand in your own way. Do not block amazing opportunities. Step out there and be bold. Reinvent yourself and never apologize for being better than you were yesterday. I support you.

Danielle Odom
8th Grade English Teacher
2016 -2017 Teacher of the Year
Twitter: @OdomADanielle

Friday, May 20, 2016

A LEAP of Faith

Sivon Matthews
8th Grade LEAP Student
Hand Middle School
Mrs. Odom’s 7th period

The transition from one school to another is not easy. For some it is even harder than others. It’s a struggle adjusting to new rules, new authority, new people, and just a new place period. I had a shaky start coming to a new school but now I think I fit in pretty well. I have adjusted to everything. It wasn’t easy but I think everyone has a little trouble in the transition going to a new school.

I came from Crayton Middle School. They did things pretty different than they do at Hand. The teaching staff was different, the rules are different, and just the way things are set up is different. I adjusted in a regular manor of time in my opinion. It took me a while to get set up with the rules and what I could and could not do. Getting used to the teachers also took a while.

While learning everything I was taught a lot about what my teachers expected of me. I learned that they’re going to push me as hard as I need to meet those expectations and do whatever it takes to help me achieve my goals. By the time I finally adjusted to the rules and regulations everything was moving pretty smoothly. My teachers adjusted to the way I acted and I adjusted to the way they do things in their classrooms like what they do and do not allow. Once I got used to everything, everything was cool my teachers are nice my principal is nice and they all keep me motivated.

Now I think everything is flowing smoothly. I have settled in and I like it. I’m doing really well in most of my classes. I really like my new teaching staff. They are nice, caring, and motivational. Hand Middle School is a lot different from Crayton but during this transition I really think that a change of scenery was necessary. I really enjoy being at Hand Middle School. It’s a very nice place with a great vibe. I had a rocky beginning to my transition due to the changes in just about everything. Although I will miss everything I had to leave behind, I’m very glad that I got to move on with my life and further my education in the LEAP program. 

Ms. Odom was very good teacher for the time that I did have her. She was very nice and kind but at the same time she was strict and always on my back but the motivation kept me going which lead to me do very well in her class. She taught me a lot and a life lesson, the main one being “you’re never going to make it giving up over a little problem so whether you like it not I’m going to stay on your back and make sure you succeed.” She was a major part to me putting in effort so to her I say thank you for not giving up on me and helping me strive for success. I appreciate you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Courtroom to Classroom

Robert Lominack
Latin Teacher at Dreher High 
Co-Founder, Achieve Columbia

Contact Mr. Lominack:
Twitter: @RobertLominack

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ~Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

There's a reason I am a teacher. I spent almost 15 years investigating and trying to tell the stories of men on death row. In each case, I learned every imaginable detail about their families and their childhoods. The trauma that they endured was not always extreme or unique. In fact, it was the type of trauma that many of our students face. But the consequences were extreme and debilitating. Of course, I had the advantage of being able to look back and trace the story from the beginning to the tragic end. I quit being a lawyer, because I wanted to be a part of the story before it had been written, when there was still time to help change the trajectory of their lives.

Interestingly, attorneys who represent death row inmates have to be very knowledgeable about childhood trauma and mental health issues. In fact, our clients' childhoods were the most important part of their story, because this part of their life set the stage for what was to come. Therefore, in addition to being trained in mental health issues, in every case we worked with a full team of mental health folks (psychologist, psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, and social worker at a minimum). I am worried that we are not providing teachers the knowledge, training, and support to work with students who suffer from childhood trauma and mental illness. So we often miss opportunities to help, we are impatient when we need to be more understanding, and we give up because we just don't know what to do. 

By the time many kids reach middle school they have absorbed years of trauma. It takes patience - months, not days - to work with these kids and get them back on track. Until schools focus on this aspect of teaching, we will continue to do a mediocre job at working with the children who need us the most. Nobody should be content with that. But we will not be able to change our results until we have changed our practices.

I am hopeful that we can begin to do that.

 Achieve Columbia
Click to view website

Article on the Paper Tigers Documentary


As principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, Jim Sporleder is credited with helping change the culture of the alternative school. Lincoln has gained national attention as a “trauma-informed” school.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pay It Forward

Martha Shaffer 
Elizabeth Thomson

8th Grade Pay It Forward Leaders

Community service is something that has been important to the two of us since we were young, but this year, it took a special turn for us. In October, the flood devastated the Midlands. We finally understood what it was like to experience something so tragic in our communities. We also noticed the support we received from across the country. People drove to South Carolina from different states to bring supplies. LSU donated a truckload of water bottles. We were there alongside our friends and neighbors to repair and recover from what had happened. We finally knew what it meant to be proud to be a South Carolinian.

One day, in English, we had a class-wide discussion about the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the question of whether or not it was a genocide. We were both extremely passionate about the issue. The day went by, but the two of us were still just as intrigued about what was happening in Flint as we had been that day. We wanted to do something.

We discovered exactly what we wanted to do when we had a meeting with our English teacher, Ms. Odom, and our 8th grade Administrator,  Dr. Coletrain. We created a plan to partner with a school in Flint and collect the supplies they needed. We were so excited that we were actually getting to do something for Flint. We brainstormed the logistics of the drive, and we were ready to begin.

Ever since we hit the ground running, we have been busy at work on this project. We made posters, digital flyers, powerpoints, and letters to prepare. We went on the morning announcements to announce the collection. We passed out boxes to every first period class in the school. We made phone calls to numerous stores, churches, and other businesses in the community.

We continue to create ideas about ways to improve the outcome of our drive. We have to problem solve, adapt to change, work with different people, and manage the project on a daily basis. We keep ourselves updated and research the Flint crisis extensively. We have become better citizens because of the work we do.

Running this drive has been extremely hard work, but it has all been worth it, because we know we are helping others who desperately need it. We hope that all the students as well as the teachers understand how important it is to help others. We believe we all can grow from a project like this when we learn the importance of paying it forward.

The students and teachers of Flint Southwestern Classical Academy need us. Together, we can Pay It Forward.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Journey


Ms. Claire Kruger
Student Intern
University of South Carolina
Contact Ms. Kruger

Two years ago, I was completely set on not becoming a teacher. I decided I would complete the Middle Level Education Program at the University of South Carolina and then figure out what I would do next… but it definitely was not going to be teaching. I had fallen victim to the negativity and pressure of entering the education field and could not look past the challenges that clouded my vision of helping shape the minds of young adolescents. I remember sitting in one of my classes during my sophomore year and a professor telling us that we can plan amazing lessons and units now, but when we actually become teachers we will have to follow strict standards and essentially just teach whatever our school or district tells us we have to teach. This broke me down. It made me feel like a robot could do this job and I was better suited for something else.

Flash forward a year to the beginning of my senior year. I was set on just completing this year and motivated by my Bachelor’s Degree at the finish line. I was prepared to enjoy the experience given to me but certainly not prepared to fall back in love with teaching. As soon as I began teaching my own lessons, preparing my materials on my own, and building relationships with the students in the classroom, I was reminded why I originally wanted to become a teacher and had reestablished my passion for this lifestyle. I have had the opportunity to work with two incredible coaching teachers, and didn’t expect to learn as much as I did about teaching, students, education, and myself. I learned to be creative with the standards and build a unit using the standards as a guide, not a script. I learned how to motivate students by allowing them to explore and engage in the real world. I learned that waking up at 6am every morning isn’t really that bad, and a secret stash of chocolate in my desk can get me through practically any challenge or long day.

I have been given incredible opportunities during my internship at Hand Middle School and I’m thankful to every staff member who has welcomed me with open arms and provided me with opportunities to learn and grow throughout this process. The students at this school are a lively and passionate bunch, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to learn with them. Someone once told me that being a middle school teacher is not a job, it’s an adventure. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to begin my adventure at Hand Middle School and can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next!