Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's Okay to Burn the Brownies


Learning really is about burning the brownies. It's about being short on ingredients and problem-solving. It's about realizing that maybe your problem solving didn't work, and that's okay. Ultimately, when those brownies don't come out the way you hoped, it's about putting on that apron and trying again...

For the last several months, my thirteen-year-old daughter has been watching cooking shows -- Chopped Junior, Cupcake Wars, Master Chef Junior...bascially anything involving cooking. She's even been practicing her British accent in case she's ever selected to go on an international cooking show. Clearly, she's begun to develop a very strong interest in the culinary arts. However, it wasn't until yesterday that she actually picked up the "apron" and put it on.

As I was sitting at my son's baseball game, my daughter and I shared a series of texts:

This conversation speaks volumes about learning. It's become a bit cliche, "FAIL" - "we need to let kids fail", and the list goes on. But it's true. The part we are missing from education really is that First Attempt In Learning. Kids need to be willing to take risks, not be afraid of failing and to try new things - - things that they are genuinely interested in.

 I've attempted this own kind of learning in my classroom - my students have been working on "Genius Hour" or passion-based projects (check out Joy Kirr's livebinder for more info) over the course of the year and cannot wait to see what my students' final work looks like. Will they all have amazing projects and presentations? Probably not...but they all have had the opportunity the successes and the failures, and have gone through the process of putting on that "apron".

By the way, here's the last few messages of our conversation. Next time I'll be sure to have eggs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Full and Empty At the Same Time

Can you be EMPTY and FULL at the same time?

There are two kinds of tears as a teacher; those that hurt because you care and those that feel good because you care.  Somedays I feel like my heart is full because I feel like I care so much about these kids…not too much…just so much. The crazy thing is when they walk out my door, I never stop caring. I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?

There were two moments just recently, that capture how the heart can become full and empty all within a few hours and how you can experience the hurt and care kind of tears. As a teacher, even the smallest of messages can make a lasting impact on you.

The FULL Moment

You never forget your first classroom. My first year of teaching was spent in a fifth grade classroom in an inner city almost twenty years ago. I’ve often wondered what’s happened to these kids – kids that attended my wedding, kids that I saw experience holding a crayfish for the first time, kids I saw pick me as their quarterback at recess, a kid who turned a blueberry into a character I’ll never forget, a kid who was taken out of my classroom by child services, kids I saw laugh, cry, and grow, and kids I will never forget.

Because of social media, I’ve been able to reconnect with two students from that class. A few days ago I connected with a third. I hadn’t spoken with this student in almost 20 years when I saw a message come through on Facebook at the end of the school day. Her message brought me to tears:

“I learned so much by all of your projects and different ways you would teach just for us to make school so exciting. I want to thank you so much because, believe it or not, the way you were with us taught me how to teach today. I am a teacher as well, and I love it because of how you were. Thanks so much for changing kids’ lives…because trust me, if you changed mine, you’re changing many others.”

Gotta love those “care” tears.

The EMPTY Moment

It’s funny how life works. One moment you’re feeling amazing and the very next moment your heart is breaking and those “hurt” tears hit you right in the gut.

That evening I was scrolling through Facebook liking pictures –  smiling at how so many of my former students have grown up - I laughed when I read the post about Rosie’s two year old son who refuses to keep his clothes on, smiled at Bree’s (now a teacher in Memphis) post about being a foster mom to puppies, and was wowed by Jay’s son’s collection of over 800 Hot Wheels he collected for a holiday drive.

I scrolled down further and saw the three letters on one ever wants to see… “RIP”.  A former student of mine, who I had just connected with three weeks ago, had died.  Too young, too soon, why, - these thoughts went through my head followed by the memories of him in my sixth grade classroom. I’ll never forget that kid’s smile – it could light up a room.

I commented on the post and got a reply from another former student that shared the same classroom with him and me:

"Mr. Storm, I thought of you right away. My friendship with Ivan started in your classroom. We would spend countless hours on your couch...I credit that entire crew (and you of course) for helping me to come out of my shell and just overall enjoy life more. I'll never forgot all of us made us and I was so embarassed and awkwar but thank God for Ivan's hilarious personality to shield my awkwardness. Such great memories...I just truly cannot fathom that he is gone. Hope you're okay.

Those tears hurt.

I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Positivity Challenge

Stay positive...and be kind to each other.

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot
Hansa Proverb

Our school was inspired by Jamie McSparin of Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Missouri  to take the Positivity Challenge and show just how awesome our school is! Teachers selected a few students to thank and we explained to them how much they mean to us. The hardest part for the teachers was picking a student - every teacher that responded to the challenge said they could have picked all of their students! We're blessed to teach such amazing students. Thank you to all of the amazing students we teach daily -- enjoy the video and see some of the amazing kids we teach.

We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.

Stay positive...and be kind to each other.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It Gives Me Hope

"It gives me hope."


Words will not do this justice, but I feel it necessary to share what I saw a group of middle school students do this past Veteran's Day. Sometimes things happen in our world that make us ponder what we are doing as Americans, yet, there are moments, real moments, those genuine unplanned moments, that make you realize we are all in this together and we live in a pretty awesome place.  

I want to share what happened in our school's cafeteria on November 11th, Veteran's Day, during our 7th grade lunch - a cafeteria full of almost 300 twelve and thirteen year olds; a cafeteria not much different than most middle school cafeterias. However, on this November day, in this modest and humble town of Quakertown, hope was felt.

As our 7th graders were settling  into eating their lunches and starting to talk with their friends in the cafeteria, a few yards away an assembly was ending in our auditorium. Veterans had gathered to hear community members, politicians, and other veterans speak and recognize their many sacrifices and service. The ceremony ended and the Veterans began to appear at the entrance to the cafeteria and began walking through the cafeteria towards the library for a luncheon. What happened next was awesome.


There was a buzz of excitement in the cafeteria and the 7th graders started to clap and move towards the Veterans. They formed a line and began to cheer, clap, and shake hands with the Veterans. I could hear "thank-you's", see kids taking their phones out to snap selfies with the vets- and I even saw one of my students helping a vet to snap a selfie on his phone, handing them letters, and giving high fives. I also saw so many genuine smiles from both the students and Veterans - and I even saw tears from both as well. This moment continued until every Veteran, well over 75 of them -  men and women from every branch of the service paraded through our cafeteria.

As the last of the Veterans made their way through, a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 50's approached me. His eyes appeared glassy and I  could see tears on his cheeks. As he began to speak I could feel myself fighting back tears. He smiled at me and took my hand and said, "I woke up this morning and put on the TV. I watched the news and just felt awful. I knew what today was but I wasn't feeling too good about things. Then this all happened, and I'll tell you what, looking at these kids, talking with these gives me hope."

As I got back to my room after lunch, I noticed two girls who were visibly upset. I asked them what was wrong and one of the girls replied, "It's just...just that was so awesome. We take so much for granted and if it weren't for all those Veterans, we wouldn't have what we have," and the other girl replied, " I handed one of the Veteran's a letter I had written and he started crying and so did I...he told me he was so happy".

It's moments like this that make me realize as long as there is kindness, there is always hope.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Good Grief Charlie Brown Teacher

The first day of school is what sets the tone for the rest of the year. Did it start something like this?

Make It Count

As a kid growing up, I remember those days in the classroom. I can almost picture the spot on my desk where the drool would puddle up, as I "listened" to the teacher explain for twenty-five minutes who she was, what her classroom rules consisted of - all thirty of them  what her expectations were for us, what would happen if we didn't follow them, how all of our assignments counted -some more than others, wah, wah, wah, wah...the crazy thing is those Charlie Brown days are still occurring in today's classrooms.

Those Charlie Brown days can't exist in our classrooms today. I'll be the first to admit, and it's only taken 18 years, that the procedures, the rules, the million things about me can wait. - we only get ONE first day, ONE day to make that first impression and ONE day to show the kid what we are.

Life is Just A Bunch of Jellybeans

This year my first day was not about rules...not about was about time. It was about the time we would be spending together, the time we would be doing amazing things, the time we would spend  learning about each other and learning about the world we live in.

Did I know their names? No. Did I know their stories? No. Did they know me or my stories? No. That would all come. Right now, day one, I wanted them to know that I valued them, I valued their time, and I valued what was to come with our time together.

I gave each student a jellybean and told them to eat it. I asked them what they tasted - not the flavor, but the taste. Some mentioned their beans were "sweet", "nasty", "gross", "good", etc. I told them that each of these tastes was really a metaphor (quick review of that for kids who didn't know) - it was a metaphor for the moments they've had before this class. They're gone now - we can't bring them back, but we can still taste them, still remember them.

I talked with them about how we would be making good tasting memories. I shared how excited I was that each of them was here, that they all mattered to this classroom, and that we were going to do some really incredible things this year. We watched The Time You Have and I handed each kid a jellybean and a baggie. They placed the bean in their baggie and I had them put them in their locker. I told them we'd be pulling them out the last week of school. I told them to remember that jellybean was there and to remember who gave it to them.

That jellybean was there as a reminder. If they were having a bad day, all they needed to do was pull out the bean and remember why they were here and that they would always have someone there for them.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What's So Scary?

This quote was on my board at the start of the school year.

I'm scared.

Yeah...there, I said it.
Deep down inside it's probably something all of you teachers think.

What is it that makes me say this? Let me try and explain.

I'm starting my 18th year of teaching, it's only the beginning of August and that feeling is creeping in. I roll over in the middle of the night and my mind races. I start thinking of my classroom and what it's going to look like - what's going to wow the kids this year? I'm streaming a show on Netflix and I start thinking of the lessons that I'm going to be doing this year - are the kids going to be engaged every single day?

But what I really can't stop thinking about, what makes me lose the most sleep, what makes me the most anxious, nervous, the kids.

Last school year I made the move from 6th to 7th grade. I had been a 6th grade teacher for sixteen years and it was really all I knew and when I was told I'd be teaching 7th grade, there was much trepidation. Switching grade levels is something that's hard to explain to a person outside of the classroom, but I'd compare it to relocating to another state to do your job - same job, but there's just a different way of doing it.

Despite the move, the past school year turned out to be one of the best all-around teaching years of my career. I loved every minute of it. Moving up with the kids and being able to see them grow over two years was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. I developed relationships with those kids that will last a lifetime.

I approached each day with enthusiasm and excitement and continuously told the kids, "I only have 170 (whatever number we were at) days left with you! We have to make them count". This challenged me to make each day meaningful - to make each day something the kids would at least have the opportunity to remember. I knew I'd get to do 7th grade all over again, but these kids only had one shot at it. It turned out to be an incredible year. How do I know this - it ended with smiles and tears.

So what's so scary?

Knowing I have to be better than I was last year for these kids. I only have 185 days with them and I have to make each one count.