Saturday, April 21, 2018

When a Sappy Facebook Post Becomes a Sappy Blog Post...

The past three days have been a whirlwind of incredible. Yes, I just used "incredible" as a noun...but that's honestly what it's been. Sappy post coming up!

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to attend a conference my school district was hosting. I was one of three teachers from my district who were invited to attend. We engaged in conversation between our superintendent, Chief Innovation Officer, governing board members, other district administrators, and attendees from other districts across the nation about what's good for kids, what makes happy kids, TED Ed, and World of Work. We ate dinner with certificated and classified employees from the district and told stories of our lives - we got to know the people we work with on a completely different level. We toured two of our schools and I got the chance to see some of the truly incredible things happening around our district in action (us teachers don't get out of our own classrooms much during the school day). My students got to meet, and actually form a relationship with, author and financial literacy guru, Jason Jenkins. I got to "brag" about my district to people who were coming to learn from us - I got to talk about the things I truly believe in as a teacher. It was eye opening, it was inspiring, it was more than I could've ever imagined it being!
And then today. Our fourth annual TEDxKids@ElCajon event. The kids we've worked so hard with for so many months were finally on the big stage with the spotlight shining down on them. The smiles, the tears of happiness, the applause - it was amazing. Two of my students took to the Power Park stage to share the TED Talks they'd written in class, my class performed What I Am (by, one of my students hosted a session, and my TED kid from Avocado took to the stage to share her TED Talk from that amazing red carpet. It was hot, it was crazy, it was nonstop, but it was inspiring, and it was confirmation of the things I know and love about education and about kids.
The two students who shared their talks on the Power Park stage were put through the wringer throughout the the TED Ed selection process. They experienced some of the first real, hard disappointment they've ever really felt. When I found out about the option to share TED Talks during the Open Mic sessions, I made sure to tell the girls about it, but also to leave the decision completely up to them without pushing my opinion on them (which was of course to get on that stage!). They're already pretty awesome kids, but I was blown away by the confidence they presented their talks with. They've never shared their talks with an audience larger than a class of 34, but suddenly, they were on stage - and they blew everyone away.
My third graders and I found out six days ago that we would be performing at TEDxKids@ElCajon today. Six days ago. Our song wasn't even fully choreographed. We'd stopped practicing because we didn't think we had been accepted. But they decided they wanted to go for it and they worked HARD throughout the week. 16 of my 24 were able to attend the event...that's pretty good for a Saturday event on short notice! They put us on stage almost 15 minutes early and our music didn't work, but the kids didn't even flinch when I told them we'd sing it a cappella instead. Those 16 third graders showed an incredible amount of determination and flexibility. They grew up a little bit while taking charge of this process, and I have never seen bigger smiles than the ones on their faces as they walked off the stage after their performance.
And then there are my girls who ended up on the big stage. The first, as a host for one of the sessions of TED Talks, and the second, as a speaker. It was incredible to watch my spunky little third grader jump into something completely new and unlike anything she's ever done before. She embraced it whole heartedly, took feedback, practiced, and brought every ounce of her amazing personality to the stage. I know I keep using the word "incredible", but that's really what it is!

The journey from writing a TED Talk to making it on the TEDx stage isn't easy. The talk itself is difficult to write! Once the talks are written, one student from each class is chosen to move on to TED Ed Club. They meet after school once a week to work on presentation literacy and continue refining their talks. They present their talks to as many different classes as possible. They step in front of a camera for the first time. And then? Two talks get selected to move on. Those two students begin attending weekly speaker coaching at the District Office in preparation for presenting at PETCO Park. After our event at PETCO Park, one student from each school is selected to move on the TEDxKids@ElCajon. We have over 17,000 students in our district and only 26 talks end up on the big stage. That's pretty (yup, you guessed it) incredible! The speaker coaching continues until the big day. And that's when they finally get to take a big deep breath and know that they've made it.

This year, my TEDx speaker was a fifth grader. Her TED Talk was about a rare degenerative brain disease that her great grandma passed away from last year: Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). To see a fifth grader take the stage, alone, and talk about something that impacted her so deeply was inspiring. I'll never forget watching her walk onto the stage at PETCO Park and start her talk, confident as ever. Man, she was going through it perfectly. Delivering this talk, for the first time in front of a large audience, she was able to see the reactions on people's faces. The magnitude of how truly personal and significant her story is, hit her deeply for the first time. The tears came, and there were a lot of them, but she didn't let her emotion stop her. Instead, she pushed through to successfully complete her talk, making an incredible impact on her audience. An emotional rollercoaster, and we weren't even to TEDx yet!

What an honor it was to walk this journey with this amazing fifth grader. I watched her transform into an even more amazing version herself. She was shaken to her core, but stood up stronger than ever before. Her mission was to educate others on PSP through a personal story and call to action, and that is exactly what she did. So well so, in fact, that she received a standing ovation. Imagine being eleven years old and watching a standing ovation just for you. Wow.

So, there I was today, just beaming with love and pride for the students I work with at Avocado and all of the speakers who stood on stage. I am just in awe. Every year is different, every year is jaw-dropping amazing, but every year leaves me beyond proud to work for the Cajon Valley Union School District. Cajon Valley really is a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.

And here I am now, exhausted, sun burned, happy, and blessed. I've typed far too much, and I'm far too tired to proofread, so it's getting posted as is...hopefully the walkabout my brain just took make some sort of sense.

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