Category Archives: Education

How Daily Writing Saved My Life

Walking on campus this past August, I made a commitment: my students will write EVERY DAY. Little did I realize how powerful this one commitment would be. Not just for them, but for me as a teacher.

Ask any teacher, there never seems to be enough time in the day to really teach every standard that is required. The answer: prioritize. I decided we would start the class period with writing. That way, it would always happen. Besides, I had some phenomenal ideas from my colleagues at the Area 3 Writing Project, the life-changing institute I was lucky enough to attend over the summer, and I was itching to implement all of it!

How I Organize

Each day has a new type of writing prompt. I set a timer and we stick to it, even if students don’t finish. The prompts range from short video clips (the students’ favorite) to different writing techniques. We will also read short articles, work on vocabulary or use the time to practice and review needed skills. However, often I tell students to ignore my prompt and write what they are feeling passionate about at that moment. After all, they are teenagers. Sometimes they just need a way to vent. Our daily writing has really become more of a writer’s workshop in only about 10-15 minutes a day.


During writing, I might circulate the room, but never read over any shoulders. That journal is theirs. Students can choose what is shared and what isn’t. It’s practice, and practice is messy.

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Writing rules written by Edna Shoemaker

What I’ve Noticed

For one, we are writing and sharing every day. YES! Our classroom is now an environment of writing. We are writers. At the beginning of the period I often hear, “What are we writing today?” Of course, their favorite part is sharing and listening to their classmates share.

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On most Fridays, my students are asked to go back and choose a piece to revise and publish on their blog. The blogs are so much better than I’ve read in years past. I believe having a journal full of rich ideas gives them a place to start. Plus, they are in the habit of writing now. It just comes easier.

When my students write, I try to write, too. Well, try. That’s the one resolution I have going forward. I know how powerful and therapeutic daily writing can be for me. Time to practice what I preach.

The Sounds of Learning

I have always been an auditory learner. I can recite commercials heard years ago on the radio, and when I don’t understand a passage I am reading, I read it aloud. As a writer, I also know the power of listening to my own words. I never publish or share a piece without first reading it in my best Leslie Stahl voice. It’s no wonder I push this proofreading technique on my students.

My first “podcast” with my students was last spring. After writing and publishing their “Now I Know Better” stories, my This American Life spin on the personal narrative where students tell stories of epic fails from childhood, usually involving a trampoline and/or torturing by an older sibling, I had students simply record themselves reading their already graded stories. I thought it would be a fun way to share, especially since a podcast was what inspired the assignment. We listened to a few in class, and I encouraged the students to listen at home. We simply ran out of time. Here are some of them:

This year, however, I decided to try something different. Instead of waiting until after the piece was graded, I decided to have students turn in their audio at the same time as their final draft. My thoughts were two-fold:

1. Make each student read the story aloud to hear any mistakes

2. Create an easily shareable format for other students to enjoy classmates’ stories.

It was a resounding success! And this time, I carved out time to allow students to listen to the stories on Chromebooks. Not only were the stories better, but students loved hearing their peers words read by the peers themselves. It was quite powerful.

Of course, my auditory journey did not end there. After going to a session at FallCUE a few weeks ago and hanging out with my buddy, Roland Aichele, he inspired me to do more. Why not record collaborative discussions? So I bought a super cool microphone (the Blue Snowball) and set it up one day last week. I plugged it into a Chromebook, set it to record on Twisted Wave, and plopped it down at one table each period during a discussion. It was AWESOME! Listening to it later, I was giddy hearing the academic discourse, mixed in with the silly 8th grade commentary. It was authentic, it was real and those kids totally rocked the discussion. The best part was I could listen to it after and really assess what each kid was understanding. It is often difficult to get to around to each group, especially in a short discussion. This was an effective way to engage my students, (they were totally on task), and check for understanding.

Now I just want eight more microphones!

 

5 “Dangerous” Things Teachers Should Do

Every kid should have the opportunity to use power tools, drive a car, climb trees, burn things with a magnifying glass and even play with fire, according to Gever Tulley. Of course, he doesn’t mean my children, right? As a parent, I find myself cringing and visibly shaking at the thought of my kids getting hurt. The first time each of them learned to ride a bike, I could be seen running along side them, lecturing instructions. As a teacher, I know this is ridiculous. I know taking risks is exactly what kids need. So why are teachers still in this overprotective mindset, not allowing their students to try two wheels on their own? Breaking away from this attitude is exactly what educators should be doing. It’s time for the training wheels to come off.

In his book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) and in his 2007 TED Talk, Tulley emphasizes ways parents can encourage their children to be more independent and foster critical thinking. He believes by allowing kids to do things we might consider dangerous, it gives them the opportunity to recognize and mitigate risk. If you allow your kid to drive, (on your lap he advises), your child will understand better the seriousness of navigating traffic, as well as the concentration a driver must have to maneuver a 4,000 pound machine. Wouldn’t kids be more likely to pipe down in the back seat in stressful traffic conditions? He argues that with these real life experiences, children will better understand safety and the world around them. Moving this idea to the classroom, we also want our students to be independent and critical thinkers who can make real world decisions. Perhaps pushing them to take risks is just the way to do it.

I began teaching in 1995 at a middle school in Southern California. Being wet behind the ears, I was eager to implement any new strategy that was thrown at me. I said yes to every workshop and even tried some pretty horrible programs in those inaugural years. Soon, I was working with a highly motivated team and running a project based language arts and social studies classroom. Then the new standards came out (now the old California Content Standards) along with No Child Left Behind. Things were about to shift.  My life changed, too. Becoming a mom, I decided to take some time off and focus on that role. It was really perfect timing.

Eight years later I returned to a classroom where my students were expected to read passages and simply answer multiple choice questions. I was baffled. Where was the writing? Where was the critical thinking and problem solving? Well, if you wait long enough, education policy always shifts. Enter the Common Core Standards. The problem is that the rigor required to implement these new standards hasn’t been present in so many classrooms for years. It’s time to remember how to ride that old bike. Let’s dust off that old banana seat, shine those spokes and show our students how to pedal down the path of learning. It’s time to be a little “dangerous.” Here’s a few things we can let students do:

Steer: We live in a new age. Yes, I mean the digital age. Information is at students’ fingertips. They can find the answer to just about any question in a matter of moments, assuming the wifi connection is cooperating. Then why are we giving our students the answers? I was once in a workshop conducted by a dear friend who asked the question: “Why are you standing at the front of the class giving students information, when they can look it up themselves?” This blew my mind. Game changer. Mind shift. Time to rethink my classroom. Instead of lecturing, I should be posing questions and having students try and find their own answers.

Remember Project Based Learning? That was good stuff. A huge part of that requires inquiry. It is organized around an open-ended driving question.  How does climate affect the way we eat? How could the Civil War been avoided? A great idea is to show a video of an experiment/concept. Before the end, stop the video. Instead of just giving the answer, ask students to predict what would happen and why. You’ll be amazed at the outcome. I rarely answer questions in my classroom anymore. I just ask them. I’m learning to let go of the handlebars.

Choose the Path: I am a HUGE proponent for choice in the classroom. Heck, I’m a huge proponent of choice in life. I want to pick my car, my movies and even my ice cream flavor. Why should students be any different? In fact, studies show that it’s not just choice but the perception of choice that makes humans buy in. Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows this. When I want my husband to do something, I hint at it until he thinks it’s his idea. Since it’s his choice, he’s happy to do it! Choice is an extrinsic motivator that, in turn, can create intrinsic motivation.  In the classroom this means that if a student believes he has a say in his own learning, he will be far more motivated.

I have seen this first-hand by implementing Genius Hour in my classroom, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the individual’s choosing.  Ask any of my 8th graders and they’ll tell you, it was the project on which they worked the hardest, and the one they loved the most. Stop telling your students what you want them to learn. Let them tell you what they want to learn. And it’s okay to trick them, like a good wife. Students will be motivated to choose their own path to pedal.

Fall and Get Back Up: John Dewey, that pedagogical rock star, once wrote, “All learning begins when our comfortables ideas turn out to be inadequate.” We learn when our status quo is no longer working. We have to change something. Try something new. This often means failure allowing for mistakes. (Failure implies we are setting students up not to succeed, when it is exactly the opposite). As teachers, we need to give our students opportunities to make mistakes, but in a safe environment. Creating a culture of safe risk taking should be a priority of instruction. Students should feel comfortable sharing ideas and work with the entire class. And if something is done incorrectly, that is simply a growing moment.

Creating an inquiry based environment allows students to find their own answers. Often, they find incorrect ones. This is just as valuable as getting the answer right the first time. One of my students once did a “How to” demonstration on cookies.  She had researched and practiced many different ways to bake cookies, finding what she deemed the “perfect” one through her experiments. She messed up her presentation terribly, but was able to tell us why. (She even explained the science of her mistake). Being able to communicate to the class her mistake made it still a success! Human beings learn best when they fall short. As teachers, we need to foster this, pushing our students to take risks, but still scaffolding in layers of support. They fall off the bike sometimes, but we can help them back up.

Ride with Others: Students now have access to infinite possibilities outside of the four walls of the classroom. Why not let them? We know that collaboration only makes our students better, and through technology we can introduce them to a world where they can learn and share with real, authentic audiences, beyond just the teacher. Students also have easy ways to share what they’ve learned with each other in the classroom in effective and efficient ways. Allow students to find their own answers and showcase their expertise and educate their peers. Let them teach each other.

Through Google Hangouts and Skype, it is now possible to connect with experts all over the world. Why not arrange a video call with an author? My favorite way to connect is through blogging. Getting students’ words out on the internet gives their writing an authentic audience. My students have connected with other 8th graders in two different states simply through their writing. In the classroom, students can share their own ideas through sites such as Padlet, a virtual bulletin board. Here members of the class can research their own topics, find critical thinking solutions, make videos, then share with the entire class. Give your students an audience in and out of the classroom. Let them pedal together.

Ride for a Reason: Teachers have always prided themselves on student projects. We’ve had our students build missions, make book floats and even make animal reports in Google Slides. But this isn’t real creating. These are not authentic. Who is the audience? What is the purpose? Simply to have something up at Open House for parents is not a real audience. Checking a box that you used technology is not a real purpose.  

Instead, imagine your students creating real world projects. Maybe the local park needs to be cleaned up. Students could design a commercial asking for volunteers. Perhaps the cafeteria needs a menu reboot. Students could conduct surveys and prepare a report for the administration. Maybe a student feels his parents are being unfair. He can create a convincing proposal to change their minds. The possibilities are endless. The key is, get students to buy in with choice, keep it open-ended, and allow students to create something that has an authentic purpose and audience. Simple, right? Students need teachers to provide the hills to ride, so they can pedal to the top.

The point of all this is that it’s time to be a rebel. Get dangerous. Break some rules. It’s time to step out of the front of the classroom and teach from your students’ side. Our role as educators is to guide, motivate and support our students to be better thinkers and better producers. They can do it. They want to ride. Give them a push and get out of their way.

 

A Writing Affair to Remember

Dear Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute,

Please don’t think of this as a “Dear John” letter, but it is with a heavy heart that we must part ways. Sadly, it is time for me to go back to my family and my obligations. Regrettably, back to reality. The time we have spent together has been some of the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. The love was real. The passion, palpable. You have taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I came here to learn how to be a better teacher, but you made me look deeper. You led me to explore myself as a writer. You pushed me, encouraged me, then celebrated me. For this I will be eternally grateful. Our time together will never be forgotten. You have changed me.

You have made me a better person. I have always thought of writing as something to DO. Something to finish. Something to publish. You have reminded me that it is far more than that. It is a therapeutic process that allows me to process my emotions, organize my ideas and sometimes just have a conversation with myself. I had forgotten that writing doesn’t always have to be published. Writing can be just for me. Thank you.

I came to you hoping to learn strategies to be a better teacher. You gave me that in spades. What I didn’t expect was you to change my attitude about teaching writing. Putting myself in my students’ shoes has given me insight to my own teaching, and how I have fallen short. I feel like I need to write a letter of apology to so many students who had a voice and I stifled it into a box, where I thought it needed to be. No more. I learned about genre blending and how to make the revision process effective. The demos were probably my favorite part. I could watch how other teachers incorporate good teaching into their classrooms all day long. I often would find myself in awe of the people in the room. I want to spend more time with them. Thank you for bringing these people to me. Thank you for your insistence on coaching each of us to shine. Your gift will fill the air of my classroom for years to come.

It is not only their teaching that has impacted me. Getting to spend time with these exceptional individuals has helped me grow personally. From my carpool group and our great conversations, to coaching groups, lunch dates and writing groups, you have given me friendships that I hope will continue to help me both professionally and on a personal level. Being surrounded by people who feel as passionately and borderline nutty about kids and teaching as I do, is a blessing. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Even though we are saying farewell today, know that you are always in my heart, my soul. I will carry you with me always. You have opened my world to a network of extraordinary educators with whom I plan to stay continuously connected. I really didn’t know what I was missing, until I met you. So, this is not goodbye, but a see you soon.

Photo Credit: http://quotesgram.com/its-not-goodbye-quotes/

Love always,

Kristina

This One Time at Writing Camp

I have spent the last two weeks engulfed, submerged in the Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute. Others who have attended tell of how it can be life changing or at the least, fulfilling. As I mark my halfway point, I am finding myself already lamenting that it will be over soon. Don’t get me wrong. I’m exhausted. But so far, it’s been so worth it. Why? Here’s a glimpse:

The Learning I have been blown away at the amount of strategies (real classroom application stuff) that I gather each day. From actual lessons I can incorporate in my classroom in August, to changing my mindset entirely about writing and reading. More than anything I’ve learned that writing doesn’t fall neatly into three text types: narrative, argumentative and informative as many have interpreted the CCSS to demand. In fact, that was never the intention of the writers of the standards. Writing can cross many types. What we should instead challenge our students to do is write often and through many kinds of genres. What’s really important is that we teach students to write for authenticity, keeping in mind: audience, purpose, content, context and structure. With this in mind, a student could write a review convincing someone to buy a product, using facts, persuasion and even a story. That would encompass all text types. We have been doing our students a disservice by limiting them. I am so guilty of this. I wonder if there’s writing teacher confession. Forgive me Father for I have sinned by teaching formulaic writing…

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The Writing A big purpose of the Writing Project is to create a community of writing teachers who actually write.Because how can you be an expert on something you never do? One of my fellow attendees joked that we were spending our summer at writing camp.  This couldn’t be more true. Coming into this, I was excited about the prospect of filling up my composition book. I love writing, and I couldn’t wait to have time in a structured setting to do so, instead of stealing moments between soccer games and grading papers. So far, though, I’m having a hard time. I’m used to writing essays for my master’s classes and blogging, but those are very different audiences. My essays are written for my professors, who are looking for specific regurgitated content. My blog, well, it’s written for me. I publish it on the web, but really don’t expect much of an audience, maybe a few loyal friends. At the Summer Institute, we share writing, aloud, in writing groups. We will eventually be asked to publish four to five pieces in an anthology. This authentic audience is freaking me out! I know it’s only a matter of time before I relax. The more I write, the more comfortable I’ll get, I’m sure. Sure makes me think about my own students. I think that might be on purpose. Well played, A3WP.

The People Each member of the Institute, 19 of us this year, is required to do a demo. This is a 75 minute lesson presentation and walk through, demonstrating writing strategies taught in the classroom. This is a truly magical experience. Let me preface with an introduction to the qualifications of admittance to the Institute. There is an application and interview process, and the coordinators are very good at choosing phenomenal candidates. Teachers, administrators and curriculum coaches all fill the seats with various levels of expertise, but the same passion for kids that drives the best educators. I am humbled to be in the room and blown away at their demos. I have learned so much from these amazing educators. I have laughed with them, cried, but most of all, I feel I’ve found yet another professional learning family that with whom I will continue to collaborate for decades to come.

Only two weeks left…
But I’m guessing those will be two weeks full of more learning and sincere emotion than any two weeks I have experienced all year, or maybe even for years to come.

4 Reasons I Went to Cue Rockstar Math

When given the opportunity to attend Cue Rockstar Math Edition this weekend, I answered the way I always do: “Yes!” Later, I realized I might be asked to actually DO math. What? This English teacher was shaking in her figurative boots. Turns out, there was no reason to fear. Here’s why I’m glad I went:

1. I need to stop saying, “I don’t do math.” I used to be very good at math, but I didn’t enjoy it. I made up my mind as an early student that I’m just not a math person. Well, when you tell yourself that, it’s true. With pushing myself to a growth mindset mentality, I decided to stop. I tell my students often, in fact it’s posted on my wall: “We are what we believe.” We must model this as teachers. I am a math person! Well, I’m learning. I’m learning by failing. But learning.13124858_10208443507759593_3674246873527755293_n

2. Good teaching is universal. Math teachers have a certain way of approaching things. They are problem solvers. They are infinitely patient, and they don’t seem to mind taking extra time to work with students who are not getting it. They are masters of differentiating. Sure they like correct answers, but more than anything they want students to SHOW THEIR WORK! (I think I just heard you grumble.) As students, we want to get to the answer and move on, but a good math teacher is all about students understanding the process. And she or he won’t give up until every student in the room understands. That tenacity is a model for any teacher. Plus inspiring as heck.

3. Awesome math teachers have even awesomer ideas. The hardest part of a Cue Rockstar is deciding on what sessions to attend. You couldn’t go wrong at this camp. I started Saturday with John Stevens and his amazing ideas about assessment. He walked us through GoFormative and Quizizz , while looking and benefits and limitations of each. We also were able to have honest discussions about how to use assessments, including having the students assess us as teachers: a very powerful tool I will implement, right away. Ending the day with the other Classroom Chef (buy their book), Matt Vaudrey  was all about how to get the perfect classroom culture: Be nice. Be wrong. Sunday, my BBQ buddy Ed Campos, Jr. showcased how he transformed his class into a 360 degree learning space. It was mind blowing. I was sad not to have seen the incredible concepts Lindsey Blass, Michael Fenton and Fawn Nguyen. Of course, just hanging with them and even listening to their shreds, I grabbed some great teaching nuggets.

Rockstar Math Peeps. photo by @LindseyBlass1

4. Math teachers are fun! Apparently it takes a certain person to teach math and those people are CRAZY. In a good way. They had me laughing constantly, never leaving a dull moment. Plus all the awesome math t-shirts! I mean, I didn’t get some of them, but hoping my new found tolerance for math will lead me on the journey to understanding.           

Session 3: Debriefing. Photo by @LindseyBlass1

While, teaching language arts will always be my passion, learning from other teachers is never a bad idea. Of course, making new friends is an even better idea! Cheers.

Because I Can’t Resist (or Say No), The 1,2,3,4,5 Challenge

If you spend anytime with me, you know my kryptonite: the direct question. “Will you….” No hesitation, “Yes.” I was challenged by Trisha to write a blog post, so here it is:

 

  1. What has been your one biggest struggle during this school year?

Hands down I will say time. I started a master’s program this year, as well as started taking on more gigs of presenting at conferences and teaching workshops. As any sane person can imagine, making time to create fabulous lessons has suffered. I often find myself flying by the seat of my pants. Of course, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

  1. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with my students. It’s funny, all the flying by the seat of my pants has actually made me relax a bit more in the classroom. I’m not so uptight about following my plans. Instead, I find myself giving far more one on one time to individuals. We have more conversations, and I feel like I’m meeting their needs better than I have in the past. I know them as people. When the structure falls apart, the human emerges. It’s pretty awesome.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with other educators. From my coworkers at my site and in my district, to my PLN on Twitter and Voxer to my cohorts in my master’s program, I am surrounded by amazing people. I’ve managed to collaborate on so many levels and learned so much from these incredible individuals. Plus, I’ve formed friendships that have already proven valuable, and I will cherish for years to come. I feel darn lucky!
  1. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  • First, I want my students to not notice I’ve left the room. I want them to be so engaged in their own learning, that I am not needed. I seriously can’t wait to start Genius Hour in the next few weeks!
  • Second, I want to get a handle on where I’m going. Next year will be a big year for me doing my Action Research project for my masters, but I still feel I’m floundering as to what I really want to accomplish. This tends to be a common theme with me. I want to do everything, but have such a hard time narrowing my focus. I’m working on it.
  • Lastly, I just want to survive. Taking three classes this semester, along with all the other extra hats I wear, has been exhausting. I miss my family, even though they’re in the other room as I work away on homework. I’m looking forward to when my classes end in May.  Then I can turn my attention to my students, too. Being the only 8th grade language arts teacher at my school, I’m not only very involved in the end of the year activities for my kiddos, it’s also a very emotional time for me. They are my babies and sending them to high school always wrecks me.
  1. Give four reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.
  • The KIDS. I couldn’t imagine not hanging out with these guys on a daily basis.
  • The opportunity to constantly improve. I think it’s a rare job that allows you to simply stop what you’re doing, change direction or start all over when things aren’t working. I love that about my day. I’ll teach the same thing five different ways sometimes, just to see what works better.
  • My colleagues. I’m surrounded everyday by people who love their job. I know I’m lucky. Very lucky. Who can say that?
  • The chance to be a goofball. The one thing I love about my job is that I get to dance at a rally, wear silly outfits, compete in a pie eating contest, and during a lesson, throw myself on the ground in a gesture of dramatic despair. It’s all in a day in middle school.
  1. Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions.

Travis Phelps @TravisPhelps80

Cate Tolnai @CateTolnai

Brandon Blom @brandonkblom

Josh Harris @EdTechSpec

Ryan Poulsen @ryanpoulsen79

Now Google Knows

Having been enveloped in a Master’s program since August, I’ve found little time to blog. Sure, I’ve been writing. A LOT. Let me know if you’d like my insight on Critical Pedagogy. You can buy me a beer, and I’ll read you all the papers I’ve written. Being on my winter break from school and work, I decided to use the time to apply to Google’s Innovator program. You know, because I thought I’d add one more thing to do. I have no hopes of getting in, (it’s rather competitive), but I’m glad I went through the process for many reasons. First, being a glutton, I enjoy pushing myself. The process of applying involves creating a video, a slide presentation and answering questions on a “Big Idea” you have for innovation. What I didn’t expect is what the answer to one of my questions would be.

Question: Imagine you are able to have coffee with one person (currently living) who would mentor you in support of your vision. Who would you pick and why?

I chewed and stewed on this one for a while. Like weeks. Today, I just started writing. I thought I’d share this:

When I first read this question, I searched my mind for all the amazing experts I’ve read about on choice based learning and gamification. But when I really thought about it, I picked someone I knew: Trisha Sanchez. Trisha wouldn’t consider herself an expert on either, but what she is is a problem solver. Trisha and I have collaborated many times over the last year, and she always has an answer for me. She is one of the most positive and forward thinking people I know, always searching for more meaningful and effective ways to teach. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she figures it out. Trisha understands students, too. The projects she has done with her students are not only innovative, but purposeful and authentic. She strives for meaning in technology, not just flash. This is why I need her in my corner. I need someone who can see the big picture, but isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty on the nitty gritty. I feel darn lucky to know her and can beckon her on a whim.

It’s a great feeling to know your mentors are also your friends.

If a Lone Nut Falls in the Forest, Does it Make a Sound?

Last year I attended Cue Rockstar Tahoe (which is really in Truckee) for the first time. I truly had no idea what to expect, except that I knew I HAD to be there. It was like something was calling me from the dense forests and winding Truckee River. I was salivating to learn. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love. Strangely, the love wasn’t necessarily for the content, although that could not be ignored. It was for the people. The people that lead and attend are some of the kindest and passionate learners I’ve ever met. When I went back to my school in the fall, I must have seemed like a lunatic the way I bragged. I was truly a lone nut, trying to express how incredible the experience was. (I managed to get my principal to send me to Cue Rockstar Petaluma last February, as well, convincing him that I NEEDED to be there.) Apparently lunacy is an attractive quality because this year, 15 teachers and administrators from my district joined me. And I have to admit, it was FREAKING AMAZING! Now I had my followers.

As usual, the things I learned were mind blowing, (seriously, check out Site Maestro and Badgelist), but being able to go back to my hotel room, go out to dinner, lounge at the brewery until after 10pm, and get up in the morning for a five mile walk, all discussing teaching strategies, ideas for innovations and even how to balance life, THAT is where the magic happens. Of course, it wasn’t just with my staff, it was with the countless colleagues I have met since last year’s Cue Rockstar Tahoe, most via social media (Twitter, Voxer) and the new friends I met just this week. Passionate people never stop inspiring. They can’t help it.

If I could wear a billboard 24/7 it would be an advertisement for Cue Rockstar. Nowhere have I ever gotten so much out of a few days of professional development. But more than anything, nowhere have I ever felt so at home. These are my people.

More than Monuments: What 8th Graders Learn on the East Coast Trip

Parents are always super nervous dropping their 14-year-old off at the airport and sending him flying across the country. Of course, I will be nervous, too, when I send my own children, but I wanted to take a moment to commend those parents who do. They spend six days watching their phones for text messages and worrying if their kid is getting enough to eat, sleeping well, getting along with roommates, and I’m sure far worse scenarios. To those parents, know you’ve given them far more in those six days than you could ever imagine.

What 8th Graders Learn

1. How to get up on time. If (and when) he sleeps through his alarm, the entire group will be waiting on him. He will hear about it all day.

2. How to be on time. Like when he slept through his alarm, when he doesn’t arrive back at the bus at precisely 3:45, he will hear about it from his peers. Repeatedly.

3. How to Read Street Signs. When she is told to be at 42nd and Broadway and she is at 50th and 7th, her group needs to figure out how to get back.

4. How to live in tight spaces with other people. She needs to figure out how to share a bathroom and two beds with three other girls. Not taking 45 minutes in the bathroom is often a viable solution.

5. Why his parents tell him to get some sleep. He learns that only getting a couple of hours of sleep can be painful the next day. Of course, he might still do it the next night, however, he understands why.

6. Why his parents tell him to eat right. Binging on junk food always seems like a good idea at this age. Inevitably, one of those kids throws up.

7. Good shoes trump fashion. Those cute sandals she brought on the trip that match her new shirt are thrown to the bottom of her suitcase after the blisters of the first day.

8. Sometimes you can’t be goofy, even with your friends. TSA and the Capitol police have little room for horse-play or 8th-grade humor.

9. How to ask for help. Whether from a teacher, a tour guide or even a security guard, sometimes it’s necessary to ask when something is needed. He has to take care of his own needs.

10. How to pay attention. Well, at least the ramifications of not paying attention. When he didn’t hear what time to be back at the bus, he will be late. Again, he will hear about it. Repeatedly.

The best part about these lessons is that they come with a safety net. That kid might be the last one on the bus, but there are many adults making sure he gets on the bus. As a chaperone, my job is to not only to give the kids an educational experience, but also grant them that little bit of freedom. It’s the freedom that teaches them the most. A dear friend of mine commented to me once that after this trip, her daughter came back different. Older. More mature. That’s the bonus of this trip. So, to the parents that choose to send their kid, I tip my glass. You’ve given them far more than a trip of a lifetime. 🙂

I interviewed the kids at the airport. Someday I will learn to turn my phone to landscape when recording.