‘Breathe’ – Jax Jones ft. Ina Wroldsen

Now it’s time to breathe.

With the recent events here in the U.S., many individuals, businesses, and corporations have spoken up about how they intend on supporting people of color. As a person of color, I have found myself distraught at times, angered at others, and even numb. On my personal socials, I have made comments, tried to have meaningful dialogue with both white and black peers, and tried to educate myself on all the issues. Eventually, this led to a discussion with my colleagues P. Sloan Joseph and Shalonda Blakeney.

We are part of a larger group that puts on EdCamp Greenville every year, but as black educators, we have sought comfort and solace within each other: sharing articles, memes, fears, and dreams. In the midst of all the sharing, we decided we needed to do more for individuals in schools that look like us. That’s when we decided to birth #BreatheEDU.

We arrived at this name with George Floyd’s haunting pleas echoing in our ears: “I can’t breathe.” This has turned into a rallying cry from the masses during the protests that have ensued over the past few weeks, much because it has been said by numerous black men murdered at the hands of police since Eric Garner in 2014. It is so much more than actual life-sustaining air entering and exiting the lungs. We began to think about our black and brown students who can’t breathe in our schools due to systemic racism and bias that has existed since integration. It’s because of this inability to breathe that we decided to facilitate a Twitter discussion where we encourage educators to inhale through meaningful discussion, research, and learning; and exhale life, growth, and progress that results in a racially inclusive learning environment for all students.

We will meet on Twitter every other Thursday at 7:30 pm EST for 30 in-depth minutes. Our discussions will be centered around resources we have found, and also those submitted by our chat attendees. Eventually, we will get into a book discussion, but we want to keep it light and conversational at first. We hope that as we begin this Thursday, the eve of Juneteenth, we will begin breathing understanding and hope into our schools and our nation.


‘Sweet Nothing’ – Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch

I keep thinking about how this is May 1–and how my friend Shasta Looper said in a Facebook post that this is the “sweetest part of the year.” No truer words. If you’ve ever taught a class of kids for an entire school year, you know what I mean. Shasta has allowed me to share a portion of her Facebook post that she shared the day that our governor announced schools would not reopen in South Carolina.

I turned my phone on Do Not Disturb, laced up my shoes, and hit the pavement. As soon as I blocked the world out, the tears began to flow. I cried for the loss of the sweetest part of the year. This is the time where teachers and students know o e [sic] another so well that each can anticipate the next move. It’s a time where lots of laughter and joy ensues. It’s the time where the entire class is celebrating the wins of one another. As a teacher, I can often take a step back during a lesson and watch my students lean in and run with class discussions or push one another further in their thinking. This is the part of the year teachers still remember in August.

Here we are: May 1. Sweet Nothing.

‘Do It Again’ – Royksopp & Robyn vs. Steve Aoki & Alok

I’ve learned that during this time of digital learning, now more than ever, kids need multiple opportunities to be successful. Things that would normally be taught, practiced, then assessed now need to be taught, taught, taught, practiced, practiced, practiced, practiced, assessed, assessed again.

My biggest fear during this time is that expectations from teachers are the same as they would be during our former school experience. The best way to look at our current situation is not that kids are learning from home, but that they are learning from home in a crisis.

School, in a sense, is a vacuum: administrators and teachers can control everything going on there. We dictate when things happen, where things are done, and with whom things are done. At home, are we really able to control any of these things? Sure, we can attempt to place parameters around when things are done, but those times are challenged by the distractions in kids’ homes. If we want to provide students opportunities to be successful while they are learning at home during this time of uncertainty, multiple opportunities for mastery is the way to go. Here are a few ways to allow kids to do it again:

  • Flip your lessons and provide students an opportunity to view your recorded lessons an unlimited time before your synchronous meeting. During the synchronous meeting, offer opportunities to correct misunderstandings or guide practice.
  • Allow multiple attempts at assessments. Most learning management systems will provide students a number of times to take assessments. Students can take assessments and learn from their mistakes in order to find the right answers. Is the goal to provide them with a grade for their effort, or bring them to an understanding of the concepts? (Hopefully, as a teacher, your goal is the latter.)
  • Before assigning an assessment, use gamification as a practice tool. The great thing about this is that you can share a link to your gamified practice and students can do it in their own time. Sites like Quizizz, Kahoot, Gimkit, and Quizlet offer fun ways for students to practice content before you assess them. As an added bonus, these same sites are great tools to assess and obtain data that can be used for differentiation and remediation.

‘Fades Away’ – Avicii feat. MishCatt

We are nearing the end of the 6th week of digital learning. This method of teaching is currently in place across the entire nation, as communities across the country are dealing with the spread of the novel coronavirus. I am posting this song because yesterday South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster closed schools for the remainder of the year. In the midst of all of the uncertainty and hope of returning to normal this school year, it seems as if the joyous and exuberant time of spring at school is merely fading away.

This is probably the best time of the year for several reasons: the weather is nicer, which means activities can be done outside; curriculum begins to culminate, which means time for memorable end-of-year activities; relationships are fully cultivated, and teachers and students have meaningful bonds that go beyond academics. This is the time of year that my friend Shasta says is the sweetest. And now?

We will spend it in front of screens. In our homes. Most likely in various states of comfortable undress.

This morning, however, I was inspired by a professional development opportunity put on by my friend, Kelli Coons. Kelli is an instructional coach in Spartanburg District 1, and during this time at home, she has put together Coffee with Coach Coons, a weekly time for teachers to come together on Zoom and be inspired through words of wisdom from each other and a special guest. This week’s special guest was Adam Welcome, author and co-founder of Kids Deserve It and the forthcoming Teachers Deserve It. Adam said a tremendous amount of things that lit me all the way up this morning. One of the takeaways I received was now is the time to let our voices be heard. Now is the time for teachers to speak up because people are listening. Everyone is either at home or knows someone at home with a child, and parents and caretakers are seeing just what we go through on a daily basis. It’s a tremendous opportunity to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our profession. This is why I’ve tried to turn the volume back up here in this blog. Secondly, he spoke eloquently and passionately about the difference between engagement and entertainment. There are so many people who have it wrong–all tweaked out about what is cute and fun and sparkly. I remember when my students would ask, “Mr. Parks, are we doing something fun today?” My response would always be, “It’s not my job to entertain you. If you happen to have fun, that is a byproduct of your learning.” Engagement is so important because it is when learning goes from being passive to active. Students are utilizing multiple senses and modalities to create new and lasting connections. My favorite quote from him might have been, “You are not on a cruise ship!” We shouldn’t be striving to provide entertainment for our students, but engaging and indelible learning on which they can build further knowledge.

So as this strange, but enlightening school year fades away, it’s important to remember just how much power we have right now. The world is looking at us to thrive outside of our natural environment. Families are realizing just how valuable we are. Now is truly a time to capitalize on this opportunity and create some lasting learning for all the lives we touch.

‘The Veldt’ – deadmau5 (feat. Chris James)

Every now and then, I get stuck on a song and end up going down a rabbit hole, researching its background, meaning, and the artist’s inspiration. When I finished my workout at the gym this morning, this song was playing. I have always loved this song, ever since its release in 2012 (if know me, you know that anything deadmau5 creates, in my eyes, is amazing). Today, however, the line, “The world that the children made” stuck with me. I began wondering exactly what this meant, especially since I spend most of my time during the school year around children–what world exactly did they make?

It turns out that Joel Zimmerman (deadmau5) created the tune with inspiration from Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story entitled “The Veldt,” a story about the sometimes fragile relationship between humans and technology. Ironically, it was technology that ended up gifting Joel with the lyrics! After live-streaming his creative process and allowing his followers to experience the birth of the tune, he casually announced that he’d begin working on the lyrics before too long. It turns out, an upcoming producer and fan on Twitter had been playing around elements from Joel’s live-stream. Chris James tweeted Joel with his rendition, also inspired by Bradbury’s story, and the rest is history (read more about the birth of deadmau5’s ‘The Veldt’ here).

So what does this have to do with student engagement? It’s twofold, actually:

This entire tune was created from several thoughts building on top of each other. A piece of literature spurned creativity for deadmau5, which in turn brought forth innovation from Chris James. Imagine how much power we can give our students by simply presenting them with an idea or a challenge, and allowing them to weave their own learning–allowing them to use their own voice and ingenuity to problem solve, create, or build. It requires us as teachers to step back and give them room to explore and research. In the end, as active facilitators, we have done very little. However, we will have supported students in spearheading their own learning and an end product that is truly student-made. The world that the children made.

Secondly, since we’re discussing making things, I have stumbled across a tool that allows teachers and students to make useful collections for all sorts of purposes. With Wakelet, I have been able to create my own world of just about anything! Wakelet is a curation tool that allows users to bring together just about anything from the internet, and assemble it in beautifully curated groups. Most recently, I have been using it in order to create presentations for the upcoming Upstate Technology Conference. I could totally see it being used as a way to build or share lessons in the classroom, or even for students to create presentations and organize online research. I highly recommend signing up and “making your own world.” Wakelet is a technology, unlike Ray Bradbury’s doomed HappyLife Home, that makes a truly positive impact on human life.

‘Breakfast’ – Goto80 (Liquid Stranger gourmet mixture)

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

I have seen this tweet numerous times this morning. It’s been like a blaring alert, flashing in bright red letters almost. I’m taking it as a reminder for this upcoming school year for me specifically. I am going to be one half of a completely brand new administrative duo. The two of us are very like-minded in terms of creating systems and protocols to ensure our school is efficient and effective for our students, their families, and teachers. What’s more, is that in my new role, I actually get to teach 5th grade math; this has me overjoyed and ridiculously excited. Of course, I have already started preparing myself for re-entry into the classroom with researching best practices and strategies that I may have missed while I have been out of the classroom.

Then this reminder: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I am a perfectionist to a fault. The idea of messing anything up literally haunts me at night. So naturally, I am trying to psych myself up for perfection in this new role: smooth sailing, no errors, everything in it’s place. This reminder about culture is the best reality check that I could receive at this point, because without relationships, habits, and widely accepted school-wide beliefs, my well thought out systems are as good as “fried catfish!”

I’m carrying this reminder into the new year with the understanding that as an administrator, this culture building falls on my shoulders in order for teachers to be successful. Similarly, in the classroom, this job belongs to teachers in order to empower students.

‘Nobody Compares to You’ – Gryffin feat. Katie Pearlman

So this post has been a long time coming. I originally heard this track early in the spring of this year, but of course, school got in the way. I also wanted to make sure that in creating the narrative that went along with the song was sound, and I could articulately get my point across. I feel like now I’m able, especially after coming across a powerful line in Sean Gaillard’s The Pepper Effect. He writes, “Believing that we do have a resonance is key to all of our moves in the schoolhouse as educators. The classroom is the canvas on which we paint the colors that will shade a legacy for our students.”

This spoke to me as if it was pumping through my earbuds. Gaillard, like me, finds inspiration through music. The muses he uses in The Pepper Effect are The Beatles. With this quote, he is likening the audacious potential power that educators have to the final resonating chord at the end of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Personally, I’m not a Beatles fan, nor am I familiar with the album, but the metaphor (no pun intended) still strikes a meaningful chord. I like to think of it as a bone rattling bass drop, or in the case of this Gryffin track, the opening chord progressions. They set the tone for the experience, or create impact that allows the listener to attach emotion, feeling, or meaning to the tune.

That’s us. That’s teachers. Administrators. Aides. Educators. Nobody compares to us when it comes to creating emotion, feeling, or meaning in our lessons. John Hattie states that teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement. This means that a teacher being confident in his or her strategies, abilities, and knowledge is more powerful than the positive behavior plan your school may be planning on implementing this fall, or the new reading program that you are learning about this summer. Within the mind of the teacher lies the fuel and force to make these two strategies meaningful for students.

That being said, we are charged to foster this resonance that lies within us through professional development and collaborative work that will allow us to carry our “sound.” Reading and researching best practices, analyzing trends, and digesting professional texts all help to amplify the impact that we as teachers can make on our students. Presenting at and attending conferences is also a great way to sharpen these skills. As an EdCamp Greenville organizer, I am a firm believer in the greatness that we can harness from each other. I learn so much from my EdCamp Greenville tribe, and do not take for granted the invaluable experiences that each one of them is able to share. It is through them, my professional learning community, that I am also strengthened, renewed, and affirmed.

So that sound–that resonance–be it at the end of a tour de force album, or the beginning of an awe-inspiring ballad, is within each one of us that has been called to be a teacher. The power to change a child’s life and inspire him for the future lies within us. Nobody compares to us.

‘Wish You Well’ – Sigala (feat. Becky Hill)

Another school year has come and gone, and I assume that many educators are in the same boat I am; I am leaving one assignment for another.

As I sit in my new location having just brought all of my things from my old school, I can’t help but reflect on the year and the events that brought me to where I am now. As we wish the past goodbye, it is important to reflect on the path that has been trod. What were the good things? What were the growth areas? What are the things that truly helped to mold us into the educators we currently are? As Becky Hill sings, “‘Cause honestly your loyalties, insecurities and priorities ain’t the same…” If we don’t take the opportunity to learn from our experiences, we are overlooking the most effective professional development available.

This summer, as I return to EDM, I am looking forward to assessing the past year in my administrative role as I look onward to the next. I also look forward to researching and sharing more engagement strategies, as my new role will allow me to return to the classroom teaching a section of 5th grade math.

‘Losing It’ – Fisher

This blog post is not meant to be a double entendre. I know it’s been a while, but I’m not losing anything when it comes to writing. School is back in momentous full swing, and I’m struggling to find time to write. Of course, after an afternoon with my professional tribe, I’m again inspired.

That leads me to what this post is really about. I’m not going to delve a whole lot into what my friend, Kelli Coons, so articulately wrote in her ‘By My Side’ guest post. But it’s times like these, on the edge of losing it, that my tribe is SO important.

My Google Calendar is graffitied with meetings and trainings and after school things this week, and just the thought of it has me a little anxious. The last I looked at it and took it in was Thursday in the midst of an admin meeting. It’s now etched into my memory, and I am unapologetically looking forward to Friday.

I know, however, that my tribe has my back. I’ve got ten awesomely uplifting, inspiring, hilarious educators that are just two thumbs and 127 text messages away. It seems like finding a teacher tribe has been the theme of this week: Thursday, I co-hosted a twitter chat with 2 of them about it, and we just wrapped up recording our first podcast.

Teaching can be so isolating and consuming at times. If you don’t have a strong, positive professional support system, I can guarantee you that “losing it” will be inevitable. Find yourself a tribe of educators with a shared vision and growth mindset to help boost you up when it feels like you may succumb to the looming stressors of the job.

To stay in line with a metaphor once used today, Beyoncé wouldn’t be where she is today without Kelly and Michelle… y’all will get that one later. Stay tuned…

‘Sunday Morning’ – Matoma (feat. Josie Dunn)

Before we get too far into the school year, it’s so important that we remember to take time to recharge and maintain balance. Staying at school late into the evening and poring over school things at home sounds cavalier, but what’s most important is the work we put in when we are present with our students. We can’t do this unless we hold precious our “Sunday morning” moments and other times when we can invest in ourselves spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

Don’t end up “drowning in the deep end” this school year–remember that sometimes the beat thing we can do to better ourselves is to better ourselves.