“Make it Better”

I’m texting back-and-forth with a student who is done with her class, her school, her education. 

(For the record, I don’t actually text with students.  We communicate via email.  See Frederick Lane for lots of good reasons NOT to privately text students.  But this exchange did happen and this graphic looks better than the actual artifact.)

There is much going on in this student’s life which colors her perspective on things right now.  But do not miss the point that she feels her school is broken and she wants someone to fix it.

ECE2SEAK brought together a room full of fixers.  Teachers who get that students are the center of the classroom and know how to make that happen.  In another life, it would have fired me up for the school year;  as it is, I was pleased to be included in this group of educators knowing that deep down inside, I did belong in the room…even if I didn’t have a lot of current evidence of awesomeness to back that up.

Regardless, I have been at the vanguard of innovative instruction for a while so even in my limited functions as Widow Teacher, I have strategies.  One is borrowed from Vicki Davis, from whom I stole the idea of a “next three” list back in 2015.  The idea is to always have three new things at the ready to innovate in your classroom.  You can read my original post here, which is actually mildly embarrassing because I’m going to list two of the things again:

  1. Blog more.  Maybe even on a regular basis.
  2. Bring more accountability into Genius Hour through self-reflection, presentations, and other tangible, “gradable” products.

And I’m drawing a blank for a #3 right now.  Impact special education at the state level?  Figure out what Personalized Learning looks like for a student with an IEP (which should be pretty personalized as it is)?  Bolster student self-reflection opportunities and abilities?  Read a book or three about anything extra extraordinary in education right now?  

Great ideas, but let’s be real:  I’m giving myself a pass on having three next things.  (Widows get to do that, by the way, do anything they want.)  Managing the holiday/end-of-semester season will be a grand enough accomplishment.

“Make it better.”  I guarantee more than one student at my school, in my district, in the state, is crying out the very same thing to teachers, just like Sad Student.  For her, I made it better by printing out the standards for that class, helped her analyze what was left to be done for the semester, and then pushed her to go and make a plan to get that done in a way that she wanted to do.  (We’re all about Personalized Learning in our district, right?)  She’ll end up doing more work than her classmates to meet the standards, but it *is* her choice.  So maybe that’s it…

     3. Make it better.

ECET2 in the Last Frontier

ECET2 Alaskan-style ended with a teacher telling us why she was there:  she wanted a little change.  A keynote speaker highlighted change, too:  be the change.  In sessions, we were asked, what one thing can you change and be fired up for on Monday?

Reactive grief doesn’t let you fire up for change on Monday.


Trying to look contemplative before Saturday’s sessions, not grouchy!

The room and participants brought a buzz of excitement for their practices.  I heard nothing I blatantly disagreed with, which is often the case at other training or conferences:  I’ll listen to speakers and wonder, are we talking about NOW in the transformative age of technology?  Or 1997.  At ECET2, all the ideas were student-centered and embraced by teachers seeking to be better than the day before. The content refreshed and rejuvenated the crowd.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you refresh or rejuvenate.

One phrase used multiple times was that teachers have their own silos, and you teach in a silo.  I smiled because my husband would say that every teacher – even myself – has her own fiefdom and woe to any who cross into her realm with intent to change her laws and challenge her power.  We heard stories about other teachers who would probably never seek out an event like ECET2 and how this group of teacher-leaders has to interact with that other group.  I wanted to shout out, especially to the special educators of whom I heard stories, how dare you let the system run the INDIVIDUALIZED plans you are supposed to have for students.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you shout out at errant educators.  (Or, at the least, it’s not a very good idea to do so.)

As the lists of attendees came out, I saw all of my district’s rock stars and self-depreciatingly wondered how I made that list.  My #1 Cheerleader would have corrected that self-talk quickly: “I wish my teachers had been more like you, Robanne.”

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel super confident about anything.


From a session about telling your story by Pegge Erkenoff

ECET2 Southeast Alaska WAS an encouraging event: I saw “the spark” in colleagues I’ve known for years and those I met this weekend. My own practice was validated and revalidated, and I do have some ideas on how to make those practices better.  I ordered three books to add to my stack and actually have the time to read them now being done with graduate school.  Refining the art of teaching brought joy to so many people at the convening who will take that back to even more students throughout the region.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel joy in much of anything, including your calling as an educator.  (It’ll come back.  Eventually.)

Let me tie it back to students:  you, even you rock star teachers, can deliver the most amazing lesson/module/task/option to a student but if something else is going on, say their ACEs are flaring up, it isn’t going to matter.  Be compassionate and meet them where they are for the day.  Then when they are ready, the amazing stuff will still be there for them.


I am at #ecet2scak this weekend.  It is a teacher-led conference, and the acronym stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers.  In other words, rock star teachers come together to share what they do and build networks of awesomeness.  It’s a nationwide thing created out of the desire to raise teachers up through the sharing of stories.

Stories. I feel I’m at an (the?) entr’acte of my teaching.  This convening, as they call it, is the last thing my husband knew would happen in my career, and the last thing that gave his encouragement and enthusiasm about me attending, since he was my #1 cheerleader.

How does one do amazingly awesome teaching and learning when one’s #1 cheerleader isn’t around to soothe the doubts and provide counsel from a non-education perspective?  How does the next part of the story unfold when written through the hole of grief?  If I decide to figure it out, this blog might have another section dedicated just to holes of grief.  But the reality is that grief is now part of my teaching whether I want it or not because it is part of me.

To bring it back to teaching, how does a student get through the struggles of becoming a grown human without a cheerleader?  What holes do students cleverly carry throughout the day, wanting to or not?  What does the next act look hold for the students who drag trauma with them from class to class?

How does one make it without one’s #1 Cheerleader?