12 May Teacher Appreciation Week
This week is teacher appreciation week, I can smell the sugar glaze donuts down the hall in the faculty lounge from thoughtful parents. Yet, for me as a parent of two and educator, it is a time to pause and give gratitude to all of the ‘teachers’ as Albert Einstein shared “…it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
We acknowledge teachers during this appreciation week to recognize all forms of teachers and caring adults who play a role in the lives of others – similarly to Mother’s Day this weekend. The opportunity to create a nurturing environment for our children to be seen, and flourish into who they’re meant to be is a precious gift.
Last week, I was fondly reminded about how we are all teachers, and mentoring is essential to our own understanding and growth as any professional. When we come together to inspire, collaborate and encourage one another as educators and teachers first, from the heart, we can create and accomplish more than we can imagine as the possibilities are endless.
In my early career as a school educator, I would welcome visitors all the time from the greater Los Angeles community as I was eager to connect and collaborate with professionals to hear about their shared experiences, exchange knowledge, and be inspired as we connected over our experiences. I knew that I could not do my best work in supporting students without continued professional development and more than that, really diving into learning from educational stakeholders and parent partnerships.
With the post-pandemic recovery, in Los Angeles, it has been a slow road back to anything but finding normalcy again in school. Yet, the time arrived this month when I was able to host a school learning specialist from a neighboring independent school to visit and collaborate with me one-on-one. It resembled the ‘olden days in education’ as I greeted her in the parking lot and embraced her with the biggest hug, as we met in person for the first time.
Ms. Kerry McGrath the most cheerful and dedicated middle school learning specialist at Westside Neighborhood School, who sought to connect with me to learn about the student programs that I had created for the school as the 6th-12th grade learning specialist. These programs were to support peer mentorship, especially the power for females and those who are in STEM or business, and more recently, concrete executive functioning skills for today’s modern learner. The “CEO” of the brain, the purpose of executive functioning, is to operate and make decisions, shift, flex, plan, remember and do. These steps together are what may impact working memory, cognitive flexibility, emotional dysregulation, and expected outcomes for the student, their teachers, and their parents. The research is clear that these skills are effective for all students, those with a learning profile and without learning differences as we learn how to manage our modern world. Over the last two years, during the lockdown, I piloted a school program to create space where we could attempt to scaffold support for middle school students using the evidence-based research from SMARTS -EF curriculum a program designed to target executive functioning skills by understanding metacognition for accessible learning strategies. This is why and how the vision of My Tool Box for Success was created, and I will explain it in my first book this summer. Simply, students are eager to find systems that work for them and one awe ha moment for students is when we can break down the processes into a visual illustration or create acronyms for practical tools. One of my favorite exercises from the program was to complete an activity that highlighted using “CANDO goals” to create clear, accountable, numerical, doable, and be aware of obstacles as one moves into authentic action when mapping out their goals. This is a simple concept that I have used to explain to parents for years; the ABCs of EF skills are (1) planning, (2) remembering, and (3) completing a task to fulfill student learning outcomes. Most parents also have similar EF challenges, and when I share with them the program, it all comes together and makes more sense for the whole family as to why there are many skills required at once to accomplish and complete one task (i.e., the goal).
Our passion to advocate, educate and support our students, teachers, and parents brought our energy together to focus on what our learning communities need from us. We had plans for lunch, but there was no time for eating, as we began to exchange ideas, educational concepts, and modern-day strategies for diverse middle school students in a modern digital eara.
Our conversations were contagious, we discussed what the student needs in their current learning environment, what teachers might need to provide access for all learners, and how can we use new concepts to illustrate learning accommodations in school and support, especially for neurodiverse learners. As we took notes, we laughed, asked challenging questions, and found ourselves in a “think-tank mindset” that felt like graduate school again, with ideas leading to solutions.
Everyone today has an agenda, the school, the parent, and the student, but an individual’s growth and trajectory toward learning does not have an agenda item. We easily forget that learning does not organically happen in this way. How can we as educators, all of us in the helping or support profession, as well as teachers, use each other to advance our own understanding and learning as to what new world we face together in education? I was grateful for Ms. McGrath’s visit as she gave me a gift that day reminding me of the power of mentorship and connection, working towards a vision that when we come together learning and creating to bring value to others’ lives is the cornerstone of what we do as educational thought leaders and teachers.