My “I’m Not Going Back-to-School” To Do List

SCHOOL-HALLWAY

School Hallway

Everyone is back to school, and I’m not.

I figured it out and every September for 37 years I have been walking in a school door and down glistening hallways to either attend or teach a class. Do I miss it? No. Didn’t I love getting new textbooks to read or greeting my new students with a welcoming smile? Yes. I loved every minute. I will always love the smell of a new book and how the spine creaks when you open it for the first time. I will miss offering my hand to students and watching smiles slowly emerge across their faces. However, now I am doing what all of my teachers and former students taught me to do throughout those 37 years. This September, I am believing in myself and following my heart. So instead of putting on a new outfit and stepping out the door, I am home alone, writing and…loving it 😉

But…the student-teacher in me is a difficult beast to tame. Therefore, I did buy colorful new pens and made plans for the fall that include offering some new features with the blog. Don’t worry, I will continue to interview amazing athletes and share their sports stories. Additionally, I will also continue to share some of my own musings on adaptive sports, change, teaching, writing and my kids.

What’s new? I will share resources like books, films, organizations or other noteworthy items. I will also offer more perspective on the world of adaptive sports by interviewing family members and coaches who support athletes with exceptionalities. My hope is to create a site where athletes are celebrated, families are supported and readers are empowered.

So here is my “I’m Not Going Back-To-School To Do List”:

Endless Abilities

Endless Abilities Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

1. Watch the film Endless Abilities by Windy Films. I LOVE this film! I mean I REALLY LOVE this film! The documentary focuses on the journey of Zachary Bastain and his three friends who travel cross country meeting athletes who play adaptive sports. The people they meet are not elite athletes, but individuals who have found meaning in adaptive sports. What I admire about the film is how honestly Zack tells his story. His genuine desire to share adaptive sports with the world is evident in every scene. Also, the music is fantastic. The only request that Nolan, Caitlin and I have is that Zack and his friends make another film titled More Endless Abilities and include Team Possible members- Nick Springer, Kanya SesserCortney Jordan and Sydney Collier.

Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This book is a MUST read for all teachers. I hope when you read it that you get out-of-your-mind mad at some of the teachers in the book because all they can see is what a student can’t do based on her disability. Then, I hope you shed tears when eleven year-old Melody uses a communication device for the first time and she is able to share her thoughts with the world. Next, I hope you cheer, laugh and shout, “I knew she could do it!” when she competes to join the school quiz team. Finally, I hope you read Out of My Mind to your students, your children and share it with your friends. As Malala Yousafzai reminds us, “One child. One teacher. One book. One pen can change the world. ”

If you’re still not sure, I did recommend this to one of my absolutely fantastic Springfield College students, Abbie King, to read over the summer with her sister, Maggie. Here is what she had to say about the book:

Abbie & Maggie King

Abbie & Maggie King Photo Credit: Abbie King

Mags and I really enjoyed reading Out of My Mind this summer. She goes to the school that I work at in the summer so we would listen to it on our drives to and from work. When we finished the book she typed on her communication device “it was happy happy love.” She really seemed to enjoy the book…I felt like Maggie was really able to connect with this book since she had very similar abilities to Melody. Growing up she would always scream and cry over the simplest of things since she had no reliable way to tell us what she was thinking. Once she got her first communication device, she became a whole new person. It was as if she was just trapped inside her mind. Now, she is a sassy, independent, brave and fearless young lady.

3. Ask for help. The fall is overwhelming and busy for everyone. I am working on asking for help when I begin to flounder instead of waiting until I am over my head.  I will start now by asking you to share this blog with a friend on FaceBook, Twitter or via email. I would also love help finding resources. Please email me (jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com) your favorite websites, books, films, organizations, etc. Really, I need your help and want to share your stories. 

Believe in the Possible!

Jen

5 Lessons My Students (K-Ph.D.) Taught Me About Teaching and Life

I wrote this post nearly 5 years ago and have since stepped back into the college classroom because I missed the magic of learning with my students. However, every word of it remains true today. Thank you again to all of my amazing students who have taught me so much about teaching and life!

Dear Students,

As I step out of the classroom, I would like to thank all of you for teaching me so many important lessons. Although you taught me many more than just five lessons, these are the lessons that have had the greatest impact in my teaching and my life.

Listen

1. LISTEN WITH YOUR EARS, EYES and HEART.

It is hard to listen. It took me lots of practice, but you were patient. Fortunately, you taught me to listen first with my ears. Then, I could hear your words. Next, you taught me to listen with my eyes, so I could see the relationship between your words and your actions. Finally, when I was ready, you taught me how to listen with my heart, so I could feel your words. And when I learned to listen with my ears, eyes and heart, I then truly understood you.

2. REFLECT CRITICALLY ON MY ACTIONS AND MY WORDS.

Looking critically in the mirror is not always fun, but it is necessary when developing your teaching. As I reflected on my craft, I began to realize that it was in the small details of day that I needed to change. First, I learned to greet each of you and let you know that your learning mattered. This simple routine built a foundation for our relationship and said to you, “I care about you and want you to be successful.” Then, I learned that my language needed to be explicit and concise. So, I stopped saying, “Please take your seat” and starting saying, “It’s time to sit and get ready to learn.” Through conscious efforts, my language slowly became more inclusive and less exclusive. I stopped saying, “parents” and instead referred to “caregivers.” It was a simple shift. However, it gave recognition to the multiple family members and friends were involved in supporting your education. “Homework” became “out of school assignments” because I understood that some of you completed your work at centers or in libraries, not home. It was in the details of simple actions and my language that my teaching evolved, and I know you appreciated my efforts.

3. MISTAKES ARE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.

Failure

I don’t like to make mistakes, but I do. I have made plenty and learned from most of them. Fortunately, you were always so kind and forgiving when I made big mistakes in front of the class. You also taught me that laughing at myself when I faltered was a good idea. What else do you do when you rip your pants during field day and have to hold them together with duct tape and binder clips? Yes, teaching, learning and living life are all risky business; it is important to have a sense of humor.

4. TEACH FROM AND WITH MY HEART.

Fiber-and-heart

This lesson still terrifies me. Teaching from and with your heart makes you vulnerable. I don’t like to feel vulnerable; it’s scary. However, when you teach from and with your heart, the connections you make with students are steadfast and comforting like a warm quilt. What does it look like to teach from the heart? It means you read aloud Patricia Polacco’s Thank you, Mr. Falker with tears streaming down your face because you feel so deeply the pain of Trisha’s struggle to read. It means you eat lunch with your students and honestly discuss what superpowers you would like to have in the future. It means you search and find ways to give all students a voice, even if they never speak. When you teach from and with your heart, you stand beside your students letting them lean on you, you sit with your students letting them whisper their fears in your ears, and you hold them tight in your arms when the world seems too much to bear.

5. CHALLENGE MYSELF.

Globe w Hands

Okay, I love this lesson! Every day in your own learning, you would model for me the benefits of taking risks. As role models, you forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I started in safe places like learning and integrating new technologies into my teaching. But I grew and so did the challenges. I started to look beyond the possible and started to challenge what seemed impossible. With your encouragement, I started to do more and become more. This lesson created my desire to write books for children that celebrate all abilities. When I shared my decision and thoughts about writing with you, you didn’t respond with looks of doubts or questions. Instead, you cheered me on and said, “I am so happy. Now, the world will be your classroom.”

Thank you for teaching me these important life lessons. Each one of you has been a part of this journey, and I am deeply grateful for all the lessons we have learned together. Since the only gift I can give you now is the written word, I will share a poem by Shel Silverstein that I memorized in fifth grade. I’ve been carrying it around in my heart for years. I still repeat it to myself in moments of doubt. Here it is…

Listen to the Mustn'ts

So listen and remember, “Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” I wish you all the best life has to offer!

Believe in the possible,

Jen

(A.K.A: Ms. Leary, Ms. Stratton, Professor Stratton & Dr. J)