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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Shadow of a Yeller Pierced by the Light of a Kind Heart

Lessons Learned

The Power of Kindness. The Strength of Gentleness.

That glorious summer after first grade witnessed the heart-soothing balm of the summer sunshine and the comfort and calmness of home. But as June faded to July and July to August, there loomed an anxiety-evoking reality; the beginning of a new school year. Following a frightening first grade year with an incessantly yelling teacher, trepidation filled this young heart in anticipation of second grade.  Fear, one method of classroom management and control, manifests in students through their downcast eyes, rounded shoulders, and obvious crushed confidence.  First grade accomplished this for me. Just weeks from second grade, hopes were not too high for anything better.  Upon arrival in the new classroom, we second grade students were greeted with a breath of lovely fresh air. In a word, kindness. This kindness was to escort our class throughout second grade, refilling our learning sails with a gentle breeze of optimism allowing and encouraging us to bravely and excitedly explore new oceans of learning. Kindness.  A gentle voice. Happy eyes.  Probably not attributes asked about on a teacher job application, but clearly attributes deeply affecting classroom morale and ultimately individual and collective classroom successes. Kindness pierced through the learned fear of the previous school year and nurtured a restored eye contact, strong shoulders and a sweet growing confidence among all of us blessed to be in this happy second grade classroom. I do not recall content taught nor content learned in second grade, albeit to recognize that we all advanced to the third grade. I do recall, however, with vivid and joyful recollection, the loving-kindness of a very gentle, very special, very encouraging teacher, whose tender ways brought smiles and motivated excellence. I have never forgotten to consider the tone used in delivering words to children. Kindness matters. Kindness builds up. Kindness outlasts content. Kindness is soothing, healing balm to the wounded spirit that has been staggering under the excruciating weight of another’s bitterness. Kindness lifts and restores. Kindness is free. Kindness is priceless.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

You're Hurting My Ears.

Lessons Learned

In The Classroom Of A Yeller


My previous blog article reflected on the gift of a gentle tone, a peaceful classroom, and the calmness, contentedness, and security students feel when wrapped in the comfort of this. I learned a different lesson early on in school.  1965-1966. First Grade. A big year for reading and learning, as they all should be.  Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was a yeller and her perpetually frustration-laced, roarish voice filled our classroom with fear rather than sweet wonder and encouragement. Regardless of one’s tender years, one quickly learns the survival strategies of not making eye contact  and not rocking the boat, so as to be able to inconspicuously fly under the classroom teacher’s radar and avoid being at the receiving end of her verbal attacks. It’s pretty tough to be “bad” in first grade as little ones long to love and please their teachers.  Can’t imagine the exponential increase in volume and in anger had we been naughty.  We were not naughty. We were, however, terrified, and when you are afraid, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to learn. Fear has no place in a classroom, because it’s unfair and it’s paralyzing as it squeezes the life, the joy, and the hope out of a classroom leaving nothing but cold walls and clock hands that don’t move fast enough.  I survived. I learned to read. At home where I was not afraid. At home where I was encouraged and smiled at. At home where no one yelled at me. I wonder how my first grade classmates did? I played school at home. My best friend and I took turns being the teacher. We were never like her. The lesson she taught, which has been indelibly etched into my heart, is how not to be. I am sorry for her because she missed the joy, the opportunity, the brilliance, the wonder, the miracles that are forever happening in a classroom of discovery and delight.  I have been a teacher for thirty years, and now in pseudo-retirement, a substitute teacher. Each class, each day, each year is new and exciting and fresh and full of limitless possibility. A classroom full of children represents the hope for the future, and to have the privilege of serving in this way and tending to this great treasure is exhilarating. Teaching. It bears a weight of responsibility such as no other. Precious children, uniquely gifted, wired, inspired, filled with wonder and dreams and infinite potential to touch, change and serve this world as no one else can; these are the treasures entrusted to our care eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, every year throughout their most formative years. With clay feet and great weakness, I stand before each class, each day in full knowledge of my inadequacy. What have I to give them but love, encouragement, and the best of what I have and am.  I am honored and humbled and thankful to be a teacher.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Need For Loud, Harsh Answers

Lessons Learned

A Gentle Answer

“A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up,” Proverbs 15:1.

In grocery store aisles and school hallways, on sports field sidelines and in performance hall parking lots, we hear parents yell at their kids and then kids yell back at their parents, and back and forth and back and forth, escalating ever escalating as if volume alone seizes the final, most authoritative word. We shout to assert control yet this very shouting bespeaks the control we have already so very clearly lost. We shout because the loudest, most ferocious bark belongs to the alpha boss dog, right? Or does it really? I believe we shout because we have not effectively learned how to lead. One of the most amazing classroom volume control strategies I have ever witnessed in thirty years of teaching, was demonstrated by a young, shy, gentle, peaceful teacher who never raised her voice above a hushed tone with students in her classroom. Their first grade voices matched her quietness. No voice was ever raised, and it was a beautifully calm room, lovely for learning. They listened for her voice and in that stillness there was comfort and security. Conversely, several doors down the hallway was a screamer whose classroom was invariably on the brink of chaos. By afternoon each day in the loud room, the decibels had been ratcheted up to an ear drum piercing roar, with everyone fighting to be heard including the teacher.  Exhaustion. Headaches. Frustration. Why do we shout? Do we lack the confidence necessary to be still, to be gentle, to be one who brings peace? In a world that regularly shouts its demands and demands its own way, a gentle soul who patiently listens and quietly responds is truly one of great strength and wisdom.  Our children have tender hearts and ears and need the careful tending of one who teaches and leads with calmness and gentleness, both at school and at home. We all need this, no matter how thick and hard our protective walls have become over time. Deep down, we long for this.  A gentle answer, a humble response, a quiet calming word breathes peace into our harried hearts. Try it. Be still. Turn the volume down. Respond with calmness, even if the impulse is to roar. Hold back that lion and watch the gentle response that returns to you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gift Giving...

Lessons Learned

Once Upon A Birthday


February birthdays in the Midwest will typically be wrapped in soft white mountains of snow, bone-chilling temperatures, and icicles, all necessitating multiple layers of flannel and wool stuffed under large, toasty, though quite unflattering stadium coats. This year was no different. It was birthday morning and already this teacher’s inbox was filled with lovely, warm words of blessing and friendship and kindness and love; words and happy wishes of deep and precious value, humbling, but making glad this teacher’s heart. A perfect start to a birthday. With coffee in hand, iced snowflakes painting the windows, and slippered feet propped comfortably upon a chair, the birthday teacher followed some early morning reading with a bit of fleece scarf tying. Knowing that a birthday morning meeting would bring this teacher to a downtown neighborhood where countless many would be acutely feeling the effects of the sub-zero temps, the thought of bringing a large pile of fleece scarves to a nearby bus stop seemed the right and perfect birthday gift to give.  With more than two dozen scarves folded and stacked chin high, the birthday teacher entered the bus stop shelter and placed them on the bus waiting bench. A gentleman approached to wait for the bus and the teacher encouraged him to be warm and take a scarf. He didn’t speak, but as the teacher left for the downtown meeting, the gentleman wrapped a fleecy blue plaid scarf around his neck.  The gift of giving is such a precious heart-filling gift. It indeed was a happy birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

TpT

Lessons Learned

Teachers Pay Teachers Became An Answer

In 1981, a Master Teacher, who was my cooperating teacher, offered a thought-provoking question and subsequent challenge, that in answering and accepting, completely set the trajectory of my teaching for the next 30 years. She inquired, “What is your passion?” And immediately chased this query with the bold assertion, “Because it will take all you have and are and believe in and will sacrificially pour yourself into to reach these desperately at-risk students.” I love music. I love to write music and play music. “Perfect,” she nodded. “Then music it is. We will teach them to learn by inspiring them with music.” The children helped me write lyrics which became songs, their songs. Their songs contained their words and those words became sight words and gradually but with never-ending zeal, we learned to read their songs. In learning to read their songs, they learned to read. We sang. We learned. We reveled in the wonderment of learning. They taught me the power and the joy of using music to help students engage with content. From then on and for the next 30 years, I have seen over and over and over again, the power and the joy of sharing music to support and enhance all curricular content.  Through the years, my wonderful, courageous students have basked in the blissful and confidence evoking fun of music to learn. Even Bloom and Gardner, I believe, would have smiled broadly upon the highly creative, wildly engaging musical academics occurring day after day. Beautiful! Now, so very many years later, however,  hundreds and hundreds of songs written through all of these years to support learning have remained unscored and consequently un-sharable, inaccessible, and  stashed on a shelf, for in the flurry of  life and living as a teacher and a mom, taking precious time to learn to score music was of lowest priority. The songs remained packed in my memory with lyrics scribbled on loose sheets of paper in tattered, well-worn folders. With retirement last June came a gift of time; time to learn to score music and time to learn to share music. But where? Then came the strong suggestion of Teachers Pay Teachers, a brilliant online marketplace for the buying and selling of excellent and highly creative  educational resources, as well as a fabulous network of support, encouragement, and help for all educators. So last mid-September, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) became the home of my new “music to learn” store called, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and step by step, note by note, I am learning to transcribe those songs that have been swirling and dancing in my mind for an entire career.  TpT has provided a forum, a venue, a storefront, a chance for the previously inaccessible to be shared.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Teachers, Homeschoolers: Here Is An Interesting Learning Application For An MP4 File...


What Do I Do With An mp4 File?
By Darcy Hill of One Arts Infusion Collaborative at Teachers Pay Teachers

One Arts Infusion Collaborative, a Teachers Pay Teachers Store, has received numerous questions about learning applications for an mp4 file. Here is the learning situation that originally necessitated the creation and utilization of specific mp4 files for our school. And following the great success of this experience, we have proceeded to use this method of “sharing is abstentia” over and over and over again with delight and fabulous results.

We wrote a musical play about our city’s history to be rehearsed and performed by 50 4th graders from our school at our city’s grandest, most historic theater. We engaged the support and involvement of 25 local organizations and ethnic dance groups and amateur photographers, encouraged the collaboration of another local school, invited 2,000 local 3rd grade students to this free performance about our city’s history and our shared story, and then raised money to make all of this happen. As we wanted the 2,000 school children guests to be able to join us in singing the grand finale musical number, yet we knew that we could not physically visit each 3rd grade classroom at each school, nor gather all of the schools’ music teachers and teach them, we were encouraged by all involved to make an mp4 file of the song with the lyrics on it for each 3rd grade classroom teacher and permission to share it with students and their families, for each music teacher,  for each of our own performing students, and for all of our collaborating partners. The song traveled through classrooms, through homes, through local organizations, appeared on cell phones, smartboards, ipads, and  in computer labs which allowed for thousands of neighbors to learn it so that during our grand finale, everyone could sing along and feel the powerful esprit de corps of belonging to the community known as home.

It’s so easy. It’s so fun. It’s such a fabulous way to share and learn and be connected.  Since that first experience in our city, we have posted many, many, many mp4’s to share with all sorts of classrooms, on all sorts of topics. This allows technology and music to build bridges of friendship and learning between neighbors both nearby and very far away.  And in our city, one ravaged by a tough economy,  high unemployment, and neighborhood violence, we have needed and longed for hope, trust, friendship, connection, and community self-esteem enhancement. This project helped. Does your community need this?

At my Teachers Pay Teachers store, you may download the FREEBIE mp4 file for “Caterpillar Walked,” a short, sweet song about a caterpillar, a cocoon, and a butterfly. This song is bundled together with this explanation of mp4’s.  It  is beautifully suited for Pre-K, K, 1, and 2, and was written especially to accompany units or lessons about new life.  Please try out “Caterpillar Walked” (as a FREEBIE) with your students. I hope you will find it exciting and fun and that you come back often, then, to peruse other suitable mp4 options to support your curriculum. I can/will, per special request, also custom-write a song to enhance your curricular content. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Only When the Snow Flies...

Lessons Learned

Embrace the Winter


Out the back door of our home in the country was a gigantic hill covered with trees, bushes, and berries of various sorts, and wandering circuitously through them all were paths, some secret and some not as secret. These paths were the routes to countless adventures upon which the children, grandchildren, Labrador Retrievers, and other friends would meanderingly rove throughout all four very distinct seasons of the year. But one particular path contained no winds or bends; it was stick straight. It was the fastest way to the bottom of the hill, and it was the winter season’s path of choice among the crowd of adventurers. It was the toboggan run, this path that was carved straight down through the trees. Upon this path, upon the toboggan, the riding team could quickly gain enough speed to send the forested world whizzing past in a white and chilly blur of excitement. With dogs frolicking and barking, pig-tails and snow wildly flying, raucous laughter rippling among the woods, and several evel knievel cousin toboggan drivers taking turns at the helm, time danced away on the wintery breeze for these rosy-cheeked adventurers on the back of the toboggan. Once through the trees that hugged the steep, straight path, the toboggan would burst out full-steam into the vast open field that rolled in gentle downward waves across twenty acres.  Hanging on to each other  fiercely yet hilariously with woolen-mitted hands, carefully keeping all appendages tucked safely and streamliningly onboard, the esprit-de-corps riders enthusiastically chased the previous riders’ path hoping beyond hope to exceed their distance record. Then together, with all woolly hands on the rope, the rider team, knee deep or more in snow, would lug the beloved toboggan back to the hilltop for another greatly anticipated run by another anxiously awaiting rider team.  Over and over and over and over again we learned to play, to share, to help, to be on a team, to love the outdoors, to take turns and be glad for each other, to drive, to ride, and that laughter and cousins and winter are another perfect recipe for awesomeness.