Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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How to Find the Right Space to Create and Engage

Earlier this school year, I thought about how I could be more consistent in my classroom. When I say classroom, I mean all aspects of where I engage in my work and not simply my physical classroom space. Some areas that I wanted to focus on were the building of relationships, making better and more consistent connections with families, and designing a comfortable and welcoming classroom space for my students.

I think about each of these, I see them as “spaces” where we interact and exist together. I recognize that as educators, there are a lot of different spaces that we need to create and stay connected within. Being able to find the best ways to stay engaged in each of these spaces is important, especially with busy schedules and demands of the work that we do. Having the benefit of digital tools that can assist us also makes it easier to provide more for our students and their families, both in and out of our classroom space. So what are the spaces that educators need to create and engage in?

A Professional Learning Space

For educators, it is important that we really look at our professional learning space differently today than we may have in the past. For myself, having been an educator for many years, I did spend the first 15 years of my career mostly in isolation. While I engaged in opportunities for professional development within my school or attended a local conference periodically, those were the only types of professional learning spaces that existed for me—because I limited myself. What is worse, is that I also placed limits on my students by not putting myself out there to connect, to learn new ideas and methods to bring back to my classroom. Years ago, finding learning spaces and making time to engage in them was more time consuming with fewer choices available. Today, we have access to so many different and more accessible professional learning spaces. We can find something that meets our interests and our needs especially when it comes to time and place. What are some options?

ISTE offers Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) focused on specific topics related to technology and roles in education. It is a great space to become connected and to share ideas and connect classrooms.

LinkedIn is a social media platform for professional connections and professional learning. Educators are using LinkedIn to connect, gather resources and even help students develop their professional identities in this space.

Twitter offers many ways for educators to connect and learn via Twitter chats happening on a daily basis, and by following specific hashtags related to education. It is a great space to ask questions, to crowdsource ideas and to build a PLN.

Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes instant conversation with people from all around the world. Educators use Voxer for creating small groups for a PLC, having a space to share ideas and collaborate with educators from around the world, and even for participating in book studies and virtual learning events.

A Classroom Space, Both Physical and Virtual

The look of classrooms and learning today is so different from what it was when I was a student and quite different than even five years ago. We have the potential to learn from anywhere around the world and at a time that meets our needs. We truly have the capability to provide more for our students than we’ve ever been able to before. Through the use of digital tools and purposefully leveraging technology, we can provide the support our students need exactly when they need it. The world becomes our classroom when we include some of these tools and ideas in our practice.

The physical space can look quite different when we use station rotations in our classrooms, provide more flexible learning spaces for students to learn in, and also connect our students with learning that happens in our school community. We redefine the “space” of the classroom and can provide something to meet every student’s interests and needs. We can also explore different digital tools that help us create a more accessible connection with our students and provide ongoing support when they need it. Here are some of the tools that we have used to stay connected in our learning space.

Edmodo is a digital space for students and teachers to interact in a safe learning network. It provides access to resources, has helped us facilitate global collaboration and build digital citizenship skills.

Padlet allows us to create a wall of discussion and share audio, video, music, photos and text. It has helped us to connect with classrooms from around the world in real-time interactions.

Flipgrid is great for extending classroom discussions and providing students with a comfortable way to express their thoughts through video responses. Students build comfort that transfers into the physical classroom space by being able to connect with their peers in the digital space.

Kidblog provides many ways for students to build literacy and digital citizenship skills, as well as create their online presence. It promotes class discussion and collaboration and gives students a space to share their ideas and track their personal growth in the process.

A Space for Promoting Student and Family Engagement

Being able to connect with the families of our students is critically important. In order to provide the best for our students, we need to make sure that we are building and fostering true family engagement. To do so, we must rely on the traditional methods we have used such as exchanging emails, making phone calls home or holding meetings in the school, but now we have access to doing even more. Being able to bring families in to see and experience what learning looks like for their students, to share in the learning that happens in the classroom or to participate in a student’s in-class presentation is possible through digital spaces we set up. Events held at schools such as Open Houses, or STEAM showcase events, for example, are great for showing families the amazing things happening in our schools. However, not all families can participate due to time constraints which is why having digital tools available that enable us to share these events can make a difference.

Remind is helpful for messaging and sharing photos and files with families to include them in the school events.

ParentSquare facilitates better communication and collaboration and helps to build a solid connection between the home and the school community.

Buncee is a multimedia presentation tool that can be used to design a class newsletter with audio and video, or for students to share their work with families and include it in a Buncee presentation. Using a tool like this is helpful for families that cannot attend events such as Open House.

Seesaw is a platform that enables teachers to share what is happening in the classroom with parents. Teachers can record and directly share each child’s progress.

These are just some of the spaces that we need to consider as educators today. There are many options available for creating these spaces and the best part is that we can find something to meet the needs of our students, their families and ourselves.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

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Why we should all go to the staffroom

Guest post by Alice Codner, @MsCodner

Let’s all go to the staffroom! ( oh wait … )

It was a year ago that I remember a visitor from another school walking into our staffroom and stopping short. “What’s happening?” he asked me, bewildered at the merry scene that greeted him, “Is there an event on or something?”

A past foray into supply teaching confirmed my suspicion that in many schools, except the occasional teacher flitting through to grab a cuppa on the flypast, the staffroom generally lies empty and unappreciated. Yet staffrooms have the potential to be a centre of professional development, the focal point for community cohesion and an effective resource for staff well-being. In these days of social distancing and contact tracing, when visits to the staffroom feel more uncertain or even precarious, it is important to remember just what they contribute to school life, and an opportunity to reflect on the value of their place in the school.

Those who imagine that teachers have a whole hour lunch break have clearly never worked in a school. After morning lessons have been eked out and the last child has finally left, there’s marking, going over the plan, setting up resources and a myriad of other jobs that should have been done by yesterday. An hour is not a long time.

Oh. And there’s eating.

Time in the staffroom so easily gets classed as an extravagant luxury. After all, what isn’t done during the day will have to be done after school. Nevertheless, over the years, I can honestly write that I have learnt more in the staffroom than on any course I have ever been on.

I should say at this point that I know I am incredibly lucky. Staff at my school are overwhelmingly kind, friendly and fun, and I do not find the friendship groups and teams cliquey. Not everyone gets on all of the time – that would be impossible in such a large group – but in general, we enjoy each other’s company and understand that we all have a lot to learn. I know that I do.

The staffroom is the first port of call when something hasn’t worked out as planned. In particular, staff members can give and receive bespoke advice on improving lessons and on effectively supporting the needs of particular children in each other’s classes.

Common phrases used in our staffroom include:

  • “Have you tried …?”
  • “x worked well with him in year 2 – you could try that”
  • “What do you think we could do for our [e.g. Vikings] topic?”
  • “Tell her she can come and show me her next piece of writing.”
  • “He can definitely do better than that. Have you spoken to mum? She’s very helpful.”
  • “That’s really good for him! You must be doing something right.”
  • “She never used to do that. What do you think might be causing it?”

The advantage of this system is that staff members can get immediate help from those who know the particular families and children that they work with without going to the leadership team, freeing up their time and getting a broad range of input as groups pool their ideas. It also means that many questions get answered before they become problems. More than simply being a luxurious space to relax, the staffroom can be a vital place of casual exchange of expertise and information that benefit the children, the staff and the leaders.

Of course, not all staffroom chat is work-related. Common topics in our school include cooking, weekend plans and Love Island – and believe me, it gets loud! Though superficially this could be judged a ‘waste of time’, in reality, these positive, relaxed conversations perform a range of important functions. Most obviously, they balance out the intensity of day-to-day teaching life and act as an emotional reset button, making it more possible to start afresh after lunch. Even if it is only for 15 minutes, making the deliberate choice to have a break tells your body that despite the pressure and speed of school life, you are not out of control, and stress levels can be kept in check.

Moreover, these light-hearted conversations form the basis of trust, preparing working relationships to be able to carry the weight of deeper or more difficult conversations when they need to happen. It is always easier to ask a favour from someone you already trust and it is always more enjoyable to do a favour for someone you already like. Schools are places of incredible interdependence. Investing in building positive relationships with other staff makes this interdependence a joy and not a burden.

Working in a school that has a ‘staffroom culture’ has not only been beneficial to my mental wellbeing, it has also played a significant role in my professional development. At a time when we might not all be able to be physically present in the staffroom itself, we might remember that ultimately, ‘the staffroom’ means each other. In a school, we are each other’s greatest resource, be that in a classroom, in the playground or anywhere else. Let’s use that. Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s a luxury.

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Alice Codner is a class teacher and outdoor learning leader at an inner-city school in NW London. As such, she has led a team to start a school farm including growing vegetables and keeping a range of animals, winning the ‘School Farm Leader 2019’ award from the School Farms Network as well as the ‘Best Garden for Wildlife’ award from the London Children’s Flower Society. She is passionate about school as a hub for community and is convinced that education is the most effective way of addressing social inequality.

@MsCodner   https://partwaythere.co.uk

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When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Metacognition and Why it Matters in Education

Some of my thoughts during this remote learning time.  Image created by Kitty Tripp for my book In  Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking.

An important part of learning and teaching is the art of reflection. As teachers, we need to be reflective in our practice so that we can continue to grow, be prepared to meet our students’ needs, and evaluate our own skills and growth. It is important that we model this same practice for our students so that they can develop their own reflective practices and build skills of metacognition in preparation for their future. Metacognition enables students to reflect on who they are, what they know, what they want to know, and how they can get to that point. I’m not an expert but this is a topic that I’ve become more interested in so I started to look into multiple resources to learn more.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition, a term that was first defined by John H. Flavell in 1979, is basically thinking about thinking. With metacognition, we become aware of our own learning experiences and the activities we involve ourselves in our paths toward personal and professional growth. We are better able to understand ourselves in the whole process of learning and can develop skills to think about, connect with, and evaluate our learning and interactions each day. But how and why is metacognition important in education?

It has been identified as an essential skill for learner success. Therefore, do we need to design specific lessons focused on metacognition for use in our classrooms each day? And if so, how can we make this happen?

From the beginning of the school year, I noticed some responses from students when it came to learning, the struggle of learning, and making mistakes. I also noticed that many times students were okay with avoiding an answer or accepting that the answer given was incorrect and did not push themselves to understand why or how to improve. It made me wonder if we need to be more intentional about working with our students on metacognition each day and how can we include it in our teaching practice.  My initial reaction is that it does and while I feel as though it is something that I have been doing, I need to be more intentional and consistent about doing more to promote metacognition with my students.

It starts with us

As educators, we need to be able to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in our teaching practice and think about them so that we can best provide for our students. We need to guide students to develop these same skills by modeling it for them and then by supporting them as they build their own metacognitive practices. With an increased focus on the importance of developing skills in social-emotional learning (SEL), metacognition plays an important part in the SEL framework. Through resources such as CASEL, which sets forth the five areas of focus for social-emotional learning, we can now learn more about how to find the right resources and the best strategies for helping our students develop these essential skills.

For our students to be successful in the future, they need opportunities to develop skills that are transferable beyond high school to do whatever it is that they ultimately decide to do once they graduate. They need to be able to self assess their needs in learning, areas of potential weaknesses and identify their strengths. Students then need to know how to use this information to plan their next steps. While the world of work will continue to change, some of the essential skills that students will need the most will stay the same. Skills like the ability to set one’s own goals, to problem solve, to analyze the tasks that they have before them, and to evaluate any challenges that might come along the way. These skills are in alignment with the three phases of metacognition: planning, monitoring, evaluating. Each of these is essential in the learning process and students need to learn how to reflect and to self-direct to the next steps.

What does it look like in the classroom?

In my classroom, something that I have noticed more each year is that students often possess self-doubt and lack of confidence in responding in class. When called upon to respond, students try to avoid answering by saying “I don’t know, I won’t get it, I can’t do it.” Any of these statements are often followed by “please call on someone else.” By avoiding the chance of being wrong, or extending the conversation, it does not help students to understand exactly what it is they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and how to push through to figure it out. I’ve been there. Even as an adult and educator, I struggle with this at times. But the difference is that I can push through it because I think back to my own experiences and try to relate to my own students that it is in our control to take the steps we need to go beyond the “I don’t know.” We have to say “I don’t know…yet.”

Following the “Power of Not Yet,” by  Carol Dweck, we need to place emphasis on adding that one word to the end of those statements and helping students to self-assess and determine how they can get there.

Strategies to promote metacognition

  1. Relationships: I believe that it starts with building relationships that are supportive and which promote two-way conversations in the classrooms. Creating a space where students feel comfortable answering and making a mistake, where failures are expected and welcomed as a boost to the learning experience, and where teachers model the same for students.
  2. Think aloud: Sometimes I have just talked one-to-one with the student and asked them to share what they know. Giving students the chance to think through it with you, or by rephrasing the question, can be a simple way to help them push through that productive struggle and develop their own strategies for when they feel that same sense of doubt.
  3. Share ideas: I try to share learning strategies and ways to help students question their learning process, figure out how they learn best, try different strategies and then take time to think through how a particular one worked for them or didn’t. Sometimes helping students to identify their learning style will lead to a quick boost in confidence and build self-confidence in learning.
  4. Resources: There are many strategies for metacognition. Catlin Tucker shared four strategies for metacognitive thinking and how to get students to think about their learning. These are easy to get started with and provide a way for students to build comfort in sharing their learning and help us identify some areas they might need some help with. Ideas include SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), weekly exit slips, video response or reflection tools, and ongoing self-assessment documents. For these, I think of using things like Google Forms, FlipgridSynth, or a tool like Kidblog for student reflections. There are many strategies available for educators to get started.
  5. Visible thinking: Help students to make thinking visible. Whether using an outline with questions or prompts and having students fill in their thoughts or trying a strategy like sketchnoting, where students can jot down ideas and make connections to learning, these can be beneficial for all learners. Some other strategies like Think, Pair, Share, or “I used to think…but now I think…” and others that have students interact with peers and also build on prior knowledge are helpful for students to build metacognitive skills.

Regardless of the method we choose, the end goal is the same: to empower students to drive their learning, build student agency, and foster a growth mindset in learning. We start by providing the right support, share our own experiences whether we struggled or we’ve had success, and showing our authentic selves to our students.

There are resources available like Benchmark Education, or posts which share example prompts we can use to get started. It is important that we help students understand that who they are now does not define them for the future; meaning that mistakes or areas of weakness in learning are just starting points for our learning journey.  Metacognition is critical for helping students work through these challenges and when we model and integrate self-assessment,  look at prior knowledge, and then evaluate what we need to know and determine our next steps, we build those metacognitive skills.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Reflection

Guest Post by April McKnight (@rilmcknight)

Reflection is concerned with consciously looking at and thinking about our experiences, actions, feelings, and responses, and then interpreting or analyzing them in order to learn from them. That is a big statement and a hard topic for our students. So how are we as educators supposed to work towards helping our students reflect on their thinking / learning and that of others.

So first I ask, as teachers and educators do we spend time on self reflection. Do we have the time to look back at our day of learning and “reflect on the information we receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues.” Yes that quote is straight out of our core competencies for critical and reflective thinking.

Yes I know every teacher is doing their self reflection in some way whenever they can but ho do we help students learn this process and see the benefits of reflection.

As a high school STEM educator, I always had reflection as part of my labs. We use our three go to questions for every lab:

What worked the best?

What needs to be tweaked?

What could we do to make it better?

This became common place in my classes and extended to all our work. Students would reflect on their own learning and ask each other to assess their work based on these questions.

As the new BC curriculum came around, I started to look at the self reflection during our projects. We have always looked at the process as more important. Photo journals or design changed diagrams or written reports were used to show their journey. But now we wanted to add in more self reflection along the way. After classroom discussions, it was decided that we would do weekly self reflection on large projects as a journal, blog or vlog. Students used the 3 questions to show their progress. The learning became very evident and assessment of their learning process was easier too.

I feel we need to all use reflection as part of our classroom routines and it wont feel so daunting in the end. It will make our assessment for, of and as learning much easier.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Creating an Action Plan Through Reflection

Guest Post by Debbie Tannenbaum @MrsTannenb

During Winter Break, I read three amazing and thought-provoking books. Each one provided me with new ideas, takeaways and made me examine my practice. The last book I finished was Innovate Inside The Box by George Couros and Katie Novak. As I began reading Part Three: You Are The Change You Seek of this book, George issues this challenge, ” We can consume pages and hours of great content, but until we do something with it, we have no ownership over the process of learning. He then asked the reader to reflect on these three questions based on our reading

1. What has challenged you?

2. What has been reaffirmed?

3. What will you do moving forward?

When I began to consider what challenged me from my reading, I really had to stop and think. Having already read Innovator’s Mindset last year and having prior experience with UDL, so much of what I read in this book resonated with me.

As I returned to school on Monday, several ideas from my reading kept bubbling up in my mind.

1. Shifting our focus and practice to be learner-driven and evidence-focused

2. What does risk mean?

3. Encouraging problem-finding and not just problem solving

Learner-Driven, Evidence Focused

In chapter 2 of the book, George Couros describes how he dislikes the term data-driven. Working in a model PLC school, there is no doubt that we spend a lot of time on data- in fact, some months, with increased testing, it feels like all we do is collect data. So when I read this, it gave me pause. Are we truly learner centered? Are we telling the story of the whole child? Are we preparing students for their futures or to meet benchmarks and goals based on our school improvement plans?

This section really led me to question our practices as educators. It made me examine why we do things the way we do, why I do things the way I do? Is the support I provide “opening doors” to the future? If so, are there any ways that I can further tweak this to make it more learner centered?

Risk-takers

In chapter 5, George and Katie discuss risk-taking, which is one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As I read this, their definition of risk caught my attention and made me look at risk through a different lens. I have always called myself a risk-taker, an early adopter, but reading this definition made the WHY behind it so clear. “Risk is moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better.“Looking at risk through this lens took the negative connotation usually associated with this word away. It equated risk with innovation.

As a tech coach, I am constantly not only taking risks, but modeling it for all my learners. How can I better empower my learners through the use of UDL to develop more agency and risk-taking.

Problem Finders- Solvers

Chapter 6 shares how when we act as problem finders-solvers, we demonstrate an Innovator’s Mindset. In the district I work in, we have been heavily immersed in PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. In late November and early December, one of our PBL Leads even came to our CLTs to help us plan upcoming PBL units. I love the idea of PBL and giving our students authentic purposes for their learning.

So when the idea of being a problem finder was introduced, I looked a little closer. I love this idea; it reminds me of 20% time and Passion Projects. It sounds amazing, but once again, time seems to be a culprit. How can we provide time for students to cultivate such endeavors while covering the curriculum? Could we involve students more in planning our PBLs beyond just the “Need to Knows?”

Reading this book reaffirmed so many things for me especially as I CHALLENGE myself this year to establish healthier habits and take more risks.

In chapter 3, as George and Katie described the importance of empowerment and shared how it leads to ownership and agency. It reminds me of how Ron Ritchart emphasized the importance of language when I attended WISSIT19 this summer.

In chapter 4, George and Katie share the importance of not only being a master educator, but also a master learner. If I have learned anything this break, it has been what a dramatic impact that reading 10-15 minutes a day can make in my learning. “In a profession where learning is the focus of our job, growth is essential and the target is always moving.” We all need to embrace that mantra and model being lifelong learners for our colleagues and students

So as I look towards the future, what will I do moving forward? The first thing that came to my mind was reflection. As part of #myoneword2020, I CHALLENGE myself to journal regularly. Journaling is such a huge component of reflection. George shares, “Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.” As I journal and monitor my goals daily, I am focused on my goals and making progress towards them. Linked to that is the idea of self care. ” When our job is about serving other people, we have to not forget to serve ourselves.” Moving forward, I CHALLENGE myself to be committed to healthier eating, regular exercise, doing activities that fill my bucket such as blogging, reading and writing. Dedicating time each morning to this pursuit has been so inspirational so far.

“Is there a better way?” Sometimes there is and we need to take a risk. Other times, we need to examine if what we are currently doing meets our students’ needs. But behind it all, there are so many ways we can take our learners and the relationships we build with them and empower them for an amazing future. I am ready to take the CHALLENGE, are you?

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

3  books.png

Buncee + BETT = What a week!

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What an amazing week it was spending time with Buncee at BETT, the biggest edtech conference in the world held in London. I am so thankful to be a part of the Buncee family and to have had the opportunity to travel to London and share in this experience with Marie Arturi, Francesca Arturi, Eda Gimenez, and Bryan Gorman. It truly was an honor to be there. I love having an opportunity to share Buncee with educators from around  the world and to be able to talk about the impact it has made for students in my classroom and for me as an educator.

 

BETT was unlike any other conference that I have attended. It was definitely a unique experience to be in a space with around 34,000 people,  many educators who traveled from around the world to learn about trends in education, emerging technologies, best practices and to exchange perspectives with one another. There were so many exhibits and learning sessions happening, but for me, my favorite part of conferences are the connections that are made and the learning from the conversations that happen with those connections. 

 

Promoting Awareness

For me, being able to spend time learning about what the educational system is like in so many different countries and to better understand the challenges that are faced by educators around the world was eye opening. During my time at the conference, we had so many groups of educators come to the Buncee booth, eager to learn more about how to amplify student choice in learning, promote creativity, nurture a love of learning and support all students. We had conversations with educators from countries like Nigeria, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, and many others, almost all of whom had never heard of Buncee before coming by the booth and being drawn in by the “Unlock the Power of Creativity” and the beautiful booth display and many Buncee examples showing on the monitor. Educators and students were curious about what Buncee was and how it could be used.

ImageMarie, Eda, Bryan and Francesca

The booth set up was beautiful and everybody who passed by stopped as soon as they saw it and wanted to capture a picture of Unlock the power of creativity. It might have been the most photographed area of the conference if I were to guess, because there were so many pictures taken during those four days!

 

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Francesca had a whole team come together to learn about the power of Buncee

Working Together

There was so much activity in the Microsoft Education space, which highlighted themes focused on personalized learning, student voice and choice, accessibility and learning tools, unlocking the power of creativity, and collaboration, for a few. Educators moved throughout the Microsoft and partner spaces to learn about each of these topics and find out how to provide more for students using the tools available. It was interesting to see the collaboration of colleagues and teams from the same district or even government organizations showing up to learn about what Buncee has to offer students and educators.

Sharing the Power of Buncee

Every time that I have the opportunity to introduce someone to Buncee, I love seeing their response as they observe all of the possibilities for creation that are available. During presentations, I always ask attendees about their familiarity with Buncee, whether they have heard of it or used it before, and I’m always very excited when a lot of hands  go up to say that it is new to them. Being able to share and show all of the options and ways that it can be used at any level, with any content, is always a good experience for everyone. And I always learn more from those attending because of the specific needs they have for their classroom or the ideas that they are looking for.

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Francesca and Bryan

Powerful learning

Something that I find to be so beneficial in conferences like BETT whether from presenting in the booth, doing demos, or even through poster sessions, is that you get to have those one-on-one conversations to find out exactly what educators are looking for and hoping to learn. You can really connect and work together to explore the tools and strategies out there and personalize it to exactly what each educator needs for their students and themselves. 

When you can make that direct contact and work with closely with them, they walk away with new ideas that they can put into practice right away, and with the reassurance that is sometimes necessary when it comes to technology, that it can be easy to get started, especially with tools like Buncee.

Sharing a love of learning and love of Buncee

nullI was honored to present a session with with Eda Gimenez, about using creativity to nurture a love of learning and the power of immersive reader for accessibility for all learners. We worked on the presentation for a while and I was excited and nervous of course, to present. But what always makes a difference is talking about something  that you are passionate about and believe in and also making a connection with the attendance.

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Ready for our presentation

What made this session special is that those in attendance had not experienced the wonder of creating with Buncee and were there to learn about it for the first time. Being able to share all of the potential it has for empowering our students with choices and creating opportunities for all students. I admire Eda and the work that she does, the message she shares about the power of Buncee and Immersive Reader for language  learners and for nurturing “a sense of participation, inclusivity, fun and creativity.”  

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We checked out our presentation room early.

An added bonus is that we were also able to try out the live captioning during our presentation. For attendees in our session, they could join with a code and then select their language of choice for captions during the presentation. Being able to communicate your message, tell a story, share learning between students and families is vital for educators and for student learning. With the power of technology, through tools like Buncee and Immersive Reader, we can make sure that families are involved and information is accessible for every student and their families. 

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Eda shared Christine Schlitt’s story during our presentation

There are some common questions when it comes to using technology: 

 

What are the ways you can use it? 

How much time does it take to get started? 

Is there a big learning curve? 

How does it benefit students?

I always anticipate these questions and appreciate the pushback that comes sometimes because that’s how we know we are truly looking at the tools and methods we want to bring into our classroom with the right lens. I enjoyed seeing attendees from our session head to the booth to learn more!  It was fun interacting with everyone, seeing their reactions to the Buncees on the screen, and many wondering how to unlock the power Several times there were requests to make sure that somebody would be available to explain Buncee, to do a demo, to answer questions later when they brought back the rest of their team.

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Image from Buncee

Highlights

One of my biggest takeaways from experiences like this is that regardless of if we are a teacher in the classroom or the one doing the presentation, we learn so much more from those who are participating in our session or the learners in our classroom. Without a doubt, I walked away with so many new ideas for my students and a greater understanding of how different educational systems are and the challenge that educators have when it comes to a lack of resources. 

It is definitely a joint effort where they want to have everybody involved and learning together with a theme of global collaboration, it surely was that. We made new connections, shared and learning experiences together and continue to learn and grow together.

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We got to meet Maria in person!

Meeting Buncee Ambassadors

Something else that made it wonderful experience was being able to connect with Buncee ambassadors from around the world. Meeting Maria in person for the first time was exciting and she even brought gifts for us from Argentina. She is a beautiful person and I’m so thankful to be connected with her! 

 

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Thank you Maria for the thoughtful gift from Argentina!

I am so thankful to be part of the Buncee team and Buncee family, who truly does join together to do what’s best for all students, and build a nurturing learning community fueled by a love of learning.

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Thank you Buncee for making a difference.

A Powerful Learning Community and So Much More!

A Powerful Learning Community and So Much More!

By Rachelle Dene Poth @Rdene915

Being an educator requires a lot. It requires a huge investment in time to make sure that we are providing everything that our students need and that we are making time for ourselves to grow professionally. Finding a way to balance the numerous responsibilities can be difficult sometimes and trying to do so can result in a lack of balance and a loss in time for personal and professional development. So what can educators do? Do we have to choose only one thing? How can we when it is all important to our students’ growth as well as our own?

We don’t have to choose. We have access to the support we need and more importantly, that our students need, through the ability to connect in the Buncee community. For several years I have been proud to be a part of this growing educator community and have learned so much from the connections that I have made and from the relationships that have formed with the Buncee team and Buncee Ambassadors. I am so proud to be a part of this Buncee family.

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Finding what we need

People often ask how to find resources and new ideas for their classes, how to become more connected, and where to find a supportive network of educators. Over the years I have been fortunate to become connected with a lot of different educators in various communities ranging from state and national educational organizations, to ambassador programs and a growing PLN from leveraging social media networks that enable me to learn and gather new ideas that will benefit my students and my practice.

There are a lot of communities out there to choose from, but one in particular has continued to make an impact in my life and for my students over the years, and in the lives of many students, educators and people from around the world. And that is Buncee.

Where to Begin

Whether you’re on Twitter or not, I would recommend checking out what educators have been sharing when it comes to Buncee. During the week there are many Twitter chats happening and discussion in online forums such as Facebook.

These are a few of the most common topics that educators have been exploring:

  • Finding resources and authentic ideas for assessment
  • Providing different types of learning experiences that are more student-driven and full of choices like project-based learning.
  • Building social emotional learning (SEL) or digital citizenship skills
  • Promoting global and cultural awareness
  • Engaging students in more authentic and meaningful work.
  • Differentiated instruction and how we can make sure that we are providing what each student needs in our classrooms.

For many years I kept myself kind of isolated and relied on my own experiences as a student and used only the materials that I had in my own classroom. Truthfully, I didn’t really know where to look to find support or other resources and didn’t feel like I had the time to do so. But today, all of that is so greatly changed, and it just takes looking outward to see what is happening in classrooms around the world. Finding the right connection and taking that first step.

Finding New ideas

Just in the last few weeks, I have learned how teachers are using Buncee for more than just creating a presentation. Educators are leveraging technology to help students to build confidence, facilitate global connections, foster social-emotional learning skills, and even for helping students to overcoming anxiety when it comes to doing presentations in class.

Recently a friend asked me if I had ideas for a different way to teach mythology. I posted my question in the Buncee community and it didn’t take long for someone to share a few project ideas and for many educators to offer more support.

There are so many unique ways to use Buncee and beyond just being a versatile tool for students and educators and anybody to use to create. Buncee has really brought people together in a welcoming community. A community that is focused on supporting one another so it can support all students.

If you are looking for a new idea, a different way to present information to your students, to have students create, to be engaged in learning, then I definitely recommend you check out Buncee.

If you are looking to become part of a supportive educator network, then I encourage you to become part of the Buncee Community. Engage in the conversations that happen each day, join in the monthly Twitter chats, take advantage of all the resources that they are so willing to give and to share. Explore some of the recent Twitter conversation and tremendous support in this community here.

Here are some of the most recent ideas shared that are definitely worth checking out:

Holiday Hugs Marie Arturi and Amy Storer Read about it here.

Tutorial Shared with Anyone Looking to Get Started: Dan Spada

Link to Video

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Submitted by Bonnie Foster to Buncee, this amazing board designed by Mary Gaynor & Colleen Corrigan.

Daily Reflective Thoughts by Don Sturm

Book recommendations: Rachelle Dene Poth

Hopes and Dreams: Laurie Guyon

Law Enforcement Appreciation Day: Barbie Monty

Welcome Back messages: Laura Steinbrink

Student Reminders: Barbie Monty

Student Focus for the year: Heather Preston

Barbie Monty

Student Business Cards and Goals: Loni Stein

Task Cards: Amy Nichols

Teacher PD: Barbie Monty

Student Projects: Todd Flory

Test Prep and Motivation: Amy Nichols

Video and Buncee with Greenscreen: Jennifer Conti

On Vulnerability

Guest Post By Dustin Pearson, @DustinPearson2

We Are One Team Blog

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger

 

Dear We Are One Team Family

A new year always brings a time of optimism, goal setting, and resolutions. Like millions of others I am no different, I am a goal setter. Not only am I a goal setter, I am a big one. I enjoy setting goals and putting together a plan to accomplish them. However big or small, they are fun and give me something to work for. One of the constant themes I have noticed is people making a goal to be more vulnerable.

Vulnerable is defined in the dictionary as, “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” There are other definitions, but this definition definitely does not align with this piece. Vulnerability for this piece is putting yourself out there and sharing personal information as a way to connect and grow. With 2020 less than 18 hours away this is a great time to share, connect, and grow as a person.

People that know me know I am a private person, and writing this piece is rather difficult.Those that know me know that kindness, love, compassion, and humility are greatly apart of my life. I share it as with as many people as I come across. It is a foundation of my classroom, and I have been rather successful with it. What very few people know about me is that. I have suffered from depression, at times deep, and severe anxiety for several years. It has taken me a while to accept and find coping practices that work, but I have found those and have accepted that it is perfectly ok to have depression and anxiety. Unfortunately millions of citizens including educators fight these battles. At times the most basic things seem insurmountable and having conversations with others feels like getting your teeth pulled.

I don’t know where my depression and anxiety came from. It could be a combination of losing a close family member to suicide last winter break, constant self doubt, shame of who I am, negative mindset, comparing myself to others, being a natural introspective person. The last one I believe is a major factor. I am a thinker and it is easy to get lost in your thoughts which can be a good and bad thing. It took until having a severe panic attack which I thought I was not capable of a 5 years ago to realize I needed help, and had to make some lifestyle changes.

Those that ask how I teach with depression and anxiety, well it is one of the easiest things I tackle. Understanding that our students battle these same things everyday. I have a deep compassion for what they go through and we are a team that grows and learns together. I also become self aware of what I go through, learn about depression and anxiety,  and adopt different changes things that work for me. For example, I stay busy, I go for walks in the building during my prep, I check on my colleagues, and say hello to every student I come across, and I love going to school. I love being with my students, teaching, growing, and achieving together.

Outside of school I see a therapist regularly to organize my thoughts, I take medication, I am an avid weightlifter. I am pretty darn strong. I also read and write, and look for ways to continue to grow. I have grown to love challenges and change. What used to literally make me shake and bring tears to my eyes is now one of my favorites, and is a great learning experience. The biggest impact on myself was the adoption of a mindfulness lifestyle. I meditate everyday, practice yoga 3-5 times per week. I am quite talented with my balance poses, and I am a firm believer in what citizens such as the Dalia Lama share with others.

One of the biggest challenges  was my shift in mindset, this change did not happen overnight. I was never a pessimistic person, but I needed to make changes for the benefit of my health. I have always wanted to help, guide, and love others. In years past anxiety crept up and made this area more difficult to achieve. I worried what others thought which held me back. Now, I couldn’t care less what others think about about me and what I believe in. I absolutely love helping others, spreading kindness, compassion, and love. These qualities are who I am as a person and who I want to surround myself with. I know the people who want to be a part of my life with gravitate in my direction.

Lastly, I have become a strong advocate for mental health, the stigma must stop. I suffer from mental health issues, and I am perfectly ok with it. I am in a great spot and have never felt better. Will it always be this way, no!  Does that worry me, absolutely! I will take on that challenge, grow, and we will do this together. I am far from a finished product, I will have to battle this for the rest of my life, I can do this, and so can you.

If we are entrusted with taking care of our students we must take care of ourselves and each other. How can our students learn and grow as individuals if they don’t have a person to guide them through challenges they face. Our students need us and we all need each other.When someone wants to talk, listen, and listen with intention. Check in with your students, colleagues, and most importantly yourself. Everyone who reads this and shares it with others has so much value to this world. I am grateful for each and everyone of you.

It’s okay not to be okay, and we are here for you. Mental health is just as important as physical health and our community of compassion, love, understanding, and growth will only help remove the stigma, and accept each other for the faults and challenges we face. My attempt at vulnerability was this piece, and I am proud to share it with you.

WE ARE ONE TEAM

-Dustin

 

 

 

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