Simple joy.

A normal thing, in the midst of unprecedented events, can bring joy. In our district, we welcomed 6th and 7th graders back into our middle school this morning. Joy. Simple and pure joy.

Why? These kids haven’t been in a school building in nearly a year. The building into which they walked this morning is brand new. Never had a kid step in it until this morning. I saw normal, nervous middle school kids, asking, “Where do I go sir?”

I also saw teachers with tears in their eyes. The normal thing of a first day of school, after such a long time away, produced tears of joy. “I’m so happy to be back with kids!” Direct quote.

Of course we have had school online. Still do, and it’s so much better in delivery and instruction than it was when we started. But there is something special about having a kid right in front of you, albeit 6 feet away, behind a mask, that makes normal feel special.


The building wasn’t just new to the kids. We have teachers beginning careers in this new building, with this being the first time they’ve had kids in a classroom!

New teacher with kids in his classroom for the very first time!

All in all, a great morning. Simple, ‘normal’ things, bringing joy.

We’ll take it.

Words of Wisdom. And Breath Mints.

Check out these real words of wisdom, from real teachers, doing real work, with real kids, as kids return to class in our hybrid model! Big thanks to Kendra Danielson for assembling all of the great WOW (words of wisdom) and big thanks to Elaine Smith for all the wonderful pictures!

My personal favorites are about relationships first, go slow, and breath mints.

Yes, we have fun in class. Critical part of learning, relationships, and bonding.

Top Tips About PPE (My Own and Student PPE)

  • Mask change for mid-day (thinker mask)
  • Come up with a mask and social distance signal for easy reminders
  • Treat everyone you come in contact with as if they have COVID. This mindset helps you remember to keep that mask on and stay 6 feet away as much as possible.
  • Your nurses are a great resource for any questions or concerns you have. Use them!
  • Have extra masks on hand for students who forget or need one that fits appropriately 
  • To make sure your room is well ventilated and aired out when cleaning/sanitizing chemicals are used.
  • Make sure students home masks fit, if not switch them out with school PPE 
  • Have extra masks on hand for your own use (I wear a mask but did not wear one for an extended amount of time and needed to change it out after several hours).
  • Mints – I have mints on hand to help with the hot and gross breath from the mask – I use mints to keep it fresh all day!
  • Learn to talk in small bursts as it takes time to build up stamina to wear a mask, talk, and breathe. Often found myself a little short of breath the first days back in class.
  • Find ways to take “mask breaks” for both you and the students.
  • Have a convenient spot to keep your PPE.
  • If you are using a shield, get the glasses kind! They are comfy, easier to see through and don’t fog up.
One dapper kid!

My top 2 tips about cleaning/sanitizing/disinfecting my workspace….

  • hand washing/sanitizer
  • REALLY REALLY have students use their own supplies
  • If you are really nervous — change your shirt/clothes mid-day
  • Wipe down your personal space often and thoroughly, especially your cell phones.
  • Sanitizing wipes are extremely helpful 
  • Use the spray district gives you and the microfiber or better still paper towels.
  • Be careful with the wipes-some have bad scents and the smell lingers. 
  • Keep disinfecting spray/towels near your workspace and put a reminder note by your door.
  • Keep supplies handy and easily accessible as it serves as a visual reminder to clean. 
  • Have your disinfectant in an easy access spot. Create a routine.
Another dapper kid!

I wish that I would have known….. 

  • If something is bothering you (not enough cleaning, too much chemicals etc..speak out right away,) let your buildings safety team/custodians/adm. know. They can’t help you if you don’t speak out.
  • How wonderful it is to be around the kids again! There was a lot of angst about returning, and there still is anxiousness, but being around the kids is truly the bright spot in all of this. Just enjoy being with them.  
  • How energy draining it is to teach safety skills on top of everything else, however you get used to it and you also get used to wearing the PPE. Sometimes you forget you have it on!
This wonderful teacher is wearing a shark hat. Because he’s awesome.

I did this and it helped so much…. 

  • Extra patience with everyone… students, co-works, schedules, all humans.  BE KIND!!!! 
  • Help and encourage each other. Have grace as we work through this, there will be some challenges.
  • I took the time to build a relationship with each student.  
  • Asked for better scented wipes. Stopped the overzealous chemicals. It was definitely a problem-my assistants and I were all reacting to this.
  • Communicate to the custodial staff about cleaning. Our custodian is working hard to make sure everything is cleaned and wiped down. 
  • self-care, self-care, and self-care!
  • I keep my own soap and lotion with me at all times — it helps with the dry skin from frequent hand washing and feels a little like home.
  • I also narrowed down my learning objectives, we only get a few days with the kids, so maximize rebuilding positive relationships and the high priority learning objectives. In doing so, I am learning to give myself grace this year. We simply cannot do it all!   
  • Take it step by step. Don’t worry about everything that isn’t working, it will come, just plan a little differently each day.
  • Let the kids just look around for a couple of minutes without bugging them to work. They have never been in your room and need a chance to acclimate. Several kids in my room had to adjust to what they thought was true about the classroom that I have been Zooming from all year. They needed time to not be distracted by the “go go go” mentality that we all feel so they could feel safe and settled.   
Can you sense the learning happening here??!

Other advice…

  • Stay calm and keep your mask on!!!! 
  • Take things slow academically. Many of our students have experienced major traumas during the pandemic (parents losing jobs, family members sick, etc.) on top of the stress of the pandemic.
  • Put building relationships first. 
  • You are going to need hand lotion… lol
  • Prep your technology stuff before your school starts. Plug everything in and work out the bugs. New social distancing might affect your ordinary spot and if you check it out early – you will have time to request tech orders or equipment needed before in person instruction.
  • Embrace yet another change and use the motto, One day at a time. 

And then.

In 2020, and in the years before, I set and mostly met, a goal of writing a blogpost each week.

And then.

March of 2020 happened. Our schools, like all schools, went to a full remote learning model. Seemingly overnight, all that we knew, had been trained for, all our experience, learning, and insight, was reset to zero. All of us were first year teachers. Not just first year teachers, but first year teachers with the additional challenges of a pandemic.

And then.

I learned that educators have grit. I actually knew that before. But man. Grit. Capital G. Took the impossible, and through relentless passion and drive, lifted a centuries old education system online. Glitches? Problems? Mistakes? Sure. Insurmountable. Not even close. Teachers would’t let it happen.

And then.

Our district will be welcoming kindergarten kids back into schools tomorrow. These are kids that have had kindergarten through a screen, seeing, singing with, laughing with, and learning from, a gifted person through a screen.

One of our gifted educators, along with a gifted student, created a series of protocol videos that are too good not to share.

We’re ready. Nervous. Excited. It’s September in February. Starting school. And while our experience was reset to zero in March, it didn’t leave us. We’ll go deep rather than wide with our learning. One of the toughest challenges for our teachers, as it always is, remains the desire to do more.

Please colleagues. Go slow. Love on the kids. Build on the relationships you have started online. If it’s the choice between 5 more arithmetic problems or laughing/crying/singing with your kids, laugh, cry, and sing.

We got this.