This Calls For a New Normal – Even If It’s Temporary

Education continues to be one of the most controversial topics in these great United States of America. Even while most of the attention has been on “saving the democracy” of our nation from domestic terrorism – no one can deny the fact that schools, teachers, children and families were at the core of major discussions during the global pandemic. The 2020-2021 school year a string of challenges that compounded the already strained education system.

Teachers were once again feeling as though their health and safety was second to government leadership threats to withhold education funding to states. Imagine walk-throughs and formal observations that rated teachers on how well they can make their global pandemic teaching measure up to pre-pandemic teaching and learning while telling little people to put their masks (while coughing and sneezing into them) back up all day??

Schools had to reopen under duress and many have closed and opened repeatedly which caused mounting feelings of stress and frustration in communities, particularly where lack of resources and employment were available.

Children and families dealt with evictions, overcrowded homes and then were told that their child would be removed from virtual classes if they did not turn on their cameras. Administrators actually had meetings to reiterate the absolute intolerance for teachers not enforcing this rule. That in itself was a national disaster, in my opinion. Never mind there were additional family members sharing spacing which caused some work spaces to be unfit for the camera. This caused many children to discontinue logging in and attendance went straight to hell. From there it got worse, parents were reported to child welfare agencies due to non-attendance.

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Then, in the middle of all of the uncertainty and overall unstable learning environments for the 2020-2021 school year, the audacity to hold all children responsible for the full year’s content and ability to pass a State Standardized Test! Yes, that includes the low performing and disadvantaged learners.

Final Thought: There was nothing customary or standard about the 2020-2021 School Year. Therefore, there should not be anything customary or standard for the way teachers, parents, or students are evaluated this school year. I did not think twice about going back when the time came to return to campus. I did not have any major concerns about contracting the virus. My 8th grader, on the other hand, did not feel comfortable so her father and I allowed to attend virtually. However, there were tens of thousands of teachers ( in the counties were I live and teach) who did have concerns and parents as well concerned for the children. Their concerns and decisions should be respected with immediate, temporary legislative modifications.


They are Not JUST Kids, They Got Next!

“Hey, look! It’s the kid who fell and busted his face on the wall (laughing)!” A 5th grader said to his 3rd grade brother while the ashamed, tiny, Kindergartener hung his head down (maybe to hide tears). Sadness overwhelmed me. I thought to myself how inaccurate parents are when they respond to suggestions to modify specific behaviors like this with the “they are just kids” deflection.

Well, I immediately wondered on that morning what kind of citizens would evolve as a result of this calloused insensitivity they weren’t taught was wrong? Feelings of sadness rushed in again. How well will they be able to work in teams or communities? How will they treat people who are different, have less, or speak differently? Most painfully, I pondered, how will the kindergartener present his hurt and shame throughout his school day?

Now, my children, like all children, were by no stretch of the imagination perfect. But they knew that if they were to intentionally cause hurt or shame to another human being , that I would be disappointed. They grew up to be team players, got along with all people regardless of status, race or any differences. I am proud of that every time I see them offer help or kindness instead of anger or ridicule.

“History really doesn’t follow a straight line. It zigs and zags, but the trend lines ultimately will be in the direction of a less violent, more empathetic, more generous world. And that requires individuals fighting for that future.” ~Barack Obama

My hope is that adults responsible for establishing the foundations of the next generation will understand that they are not JUST kids but they are the future who will inevitably become more rooted in what they practice today. Model empathy and kindness. And then expect the same from your young people. You might just make a difference in the kind of day a Kindergartener has! Love, Mrs. C❤️


All Lessons Matter

Foundationally speaking, I haven’t changed. Core values and the essence of who I was and still am have not changed. Performing and putting on airs about who I am is just too much extra work for me. Besides, people deserve to know who they are dealing with. Therefore, I am certain that I have not changed. But yet, there is the world of people who stand in agreement that they love me and the work that I do with their youngsters. And yet another world of people who wish I would just fall off the earth and never speak another word.

Filter “Objectivity” on the case! I can now share that the lessons gathered from the harvest of both of these types of seasons have mattered so much. From Day 1 when I stood in the front of my first 3rd Grade families in 2011 to this present record year of Covid-19. From a roomful of parents and students hoping that I would be the type of educator that each of their children needed. To a mere five halfway excited scholars in person and the other 11 half watching the computer screen and half watching the television while attending (mostly unsupervised) virtually. I have stood resolute in my beliefs on the value of a sound education in both worlds and have learned valuable lessons from both groups of humans.

My belief that every child can learn has created a push in me to educate as well as I can using every fiber in my being to cater to the individual and diverse needs before me each day. With this crazy idea that I could reach every one of them, I set out to guide each student to their full potential in 180 school days. I was struck to learn that in one world, students received my educational faith in them, the encouragement and nudges with similar enthusiasm shown by their parents at open house, parent teacher conferences, and other school events. My methods worked with great ease resulting in entire groups making leaps and bounds every school year.

In the other world, however, I was hit in the head with a boulder! Students were annoyed and insulted at the implication that they could possibly understand that multiplication and division are inverse operations. They showed this annoyance with the same level of rigor their parents showed whenever the teacher called to request a conference or suggest the student receive support with homework or other reinforcement activities. There was an imminent threat to my mission, to my level of commitment to all or at least most of my kiddos reaching their highest potential for the year.

Through my objectivity filter I would learn that my core values would never change but if I truly believed in my mission, I would have to grow significantly and change only my methods in order to help the children in the “other world” be able to see themselves as I saw them. A few years into my teaching career I latched onto the “Growth Mindset” theory (particularly as taught by Carol Dweck) and I taught that concept just as fiercely as I taught inverse operations. We discussed it, we practiced it, we did role play. It became a culture in our classroom. I was excited when it later caught on at the school where I taught. Resistant students discovered a new objective filter that allowed them to see pass their bias about their own abilities. As parents saw the change in their young learners, their participation in the teaching and learning process increased as well! Lesson learned: When those you are trying to help cannot grow; you grow and teach them how to grow before you teach them inverse operations! All lessons matter.

~Always with Love

Black History: Educators Speak Up

Silence is too expensive. Whether or not one is personally affected by the topic ; as humans we are all implicitly affected by topics that affect humanity.

In classrooms all over the world, complicit silence can be heard during Black History Month presentations that start with slavery and end with the death of Martin Luther King in 1968. I have observed the lowered countenances of my students when the focus was on slavery and they were forced every year to glare at pictures of shackled human beings carted like cattle and how it did absolutely nothing for their self empowerment.

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This weekend, during my Saturday morning ritual to continuously develop professionally, I heard renowned speaker, author, and turn-around Principal Kafele share the importance of educators increasing their own awareness concerning African American history. As I listened to his leadership seminar, I remembered my students’ faces during the presentations that debased their rich history and culture to a mini lens of pain and degradation. A couple of the more vocal ones made comments that were seeded in the embarrassment of always having been shown as a lesser people. Could my silence be the reason a child misunderstands that his real fight is to continue to overcome by knowledge? To know that he carries the seed of greatness. That her fight is to understand how the power to overcome is a part of her DNA. And because of this history on the screen, they can – they must become their ancestors’ dream.

I sincerely apologize to the hundreds of minority students that I have passionately taught every subject except the powerful, rich history of who they truly are.

Forgive my ignorance. Forgive my silence.

In order to move into a different and transformative direction as a great people- ALL VOICES MATTER. Speaking our truth and speaking in support of others who may not have found their voices yet. Our ancestors must be super proud of respected voices, like Principal Kafele and Mr. Clint Smith, III, and the way they use their platforms for courageous speaking that continues to initiate tough conversations that ultimately provoke change for the empowerment of others.

Mr. Clint Smith, an American writer, poet and scholar, shares his thoughts on the danger of silence in this brief, yet profound clip. Also, below a must read authored by Mr. Smith.

How Should Teacher Observations During a Pandemic Be Used?

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Pre-Pandemic – from the time I step foot on campus to the last bell, I give the kids my undivided attention and tons of animation. I am engaged and subsequently, so are the learners that I teach. Since we spend a great deal of time together it has been my personal experience that long stretches of time together feel better when people are happy. So, while I am focused on content, I make also sure to balance that with a good time.

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Post-Pandemic – actually still in the thick of a Pandemic – with all of the noise about masks and not having breakfast in the cafeteria, etc. this continues to be a theme I keep true to. LEARNING and GROWING is IMPORTANT and FUN. Granted, I have been fortunate to not have any close family members become infected with the virus. So I am a bit less worried than a number of fellow teachers who have tested positive at some point, had close family members test positive or have underlying health issues that may become problematic. I totally understand that they may be a bit less enthused about returning to the classroom in the wake of pandemic conditions.

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Meanwhile, the accountability gods are working hard to get documentation on how well teachers are making the “anything but normal” circumstances match up to the performance evaluation rubric. Can we work in small groups to provide hands on and differentiated activities as we did pre-pandemic? Not exactly. And how would a teacher “monitor student understanding” in person when social distance is still a mandate? Not sure. Teachers aren’t sure if they should walk around or sit at the desk behind the shield. Students aren’t sure if they can pull the mask down quickly in order to avoid sneezing in it. And you want to come in and do an OBserVation?

Yes, we do understand how important it is to make sure that teachers are doing everything pedagogically possible to ensure substantial teaching and learning occurs during the pandemic. Yes, we also understand that students will fall behind if this best effort is absent from the 2021 School Year. We get it. With that said, it only becomes a question then of HOW will the evaluation affect teachers? Will it be simply recorded as a measure to demonstrate that effective teaching and learning occurred, Pandemic Style, in the best ways possible? We can HoPe right? Or will teachers who could not grapple with technology quickly enough or create engaging lessons and activities from 6 feet apart receive less than satisfactory evaluations? Let’s hope NoT.

I sure hope that only as a measure of BeSt EfFort teaching and learning will be the way that 2021 observations will go down in history! The other option would be too much like a slap in the face to some of the most dedicated people on earth – Teachers 🍎

What the Disruptive Child or Student Needs The Most

There is a child somewhere right now turning the whole place out. And not in a fun way. They are irritable, yelling, fussing, shaking everything, pushing things away, snatching things. Maybe you weren’t the parent but instead the person who came to your place of worship or medical care without any desire to have your peace disturbed by this child. Either filter you are observing this – it is disruptive. Disturbances at Church. School. Doctor’s Office. Grocery store. Just about anywhere people are normally structured and or subdued.

This type of disruptive behavior drives 51% of 1-5 year teachers out of the profession every year. New teachers are not interested in spending hours planning lessons for behaviorally challenged students to disrupt and cause every one of them to fail. These teachers are also not delighted that they will need to describe this at conferences 2 times a year for each family. But what else can be done?

Telling him how disruptive he was one thousand times won’t help.

Either way we all have wondered what in the world does this child need! Parents may have tried bringing along favorite blankets, toys, video games to the appointment. In the classroom, teachers made some subtle moves like seat changes and student teacher conferences. The majority of what needs to change is not with the child or student but instead with the adults.

You see, by giving the toys, video games, seat changes and whatever else we have tried we did still provide the child with nothing more than distractors that may or may not suffice. And what happened any time he decided that the blanket was not a big enough distraction to deter him from reigning holy terror on the place and all the witnesses? Yep, you got it – he did just that! So the real solution is:

A “structured” environment can be defined as one that is “organized and predictable,” so when there exists day-to-day routines and a daily schedule in place for children to follow, therein lies structure. Likewise, when house rules, expectations and consequences are consistently implemented and clearly understood by the child – and positively reinforced by the parent(s) – an environment that is “predictable” is created.

In a “structured environment,” a child knows what to expect, and a great sense of security comes from this

Similar to the way we schedule our daily lives – children also require structured lives

Parents, Teachers, Caregivers have a responsibility to provide the ultimate structured environment. Ultimate because it is focused on all the child needs each day to “spin her wheels” in positive and productive ways.

1. Be Deliberate. Plan a schedule that not only includes home and classroom activities – but also activities (i.e. speaking and listening interactions with the adults and peers) that may occur in other environments.

2. Be Proactive. Block time to model and practice the schedule. Explain expectations and tie in rewards. Include activities that are frequent in different environments (i.e, sharing computer time with a sibling could resemble what will happen in school with classmates).

3. Be Consistent. The child may resist the detailed organization of her life initially but in my 20+ years of experience, students and children with the most significant behavioral challenges fall into the structure easily for many cognitive reasons (the specifics would require a separate article ✍🏾). The most significant one I have realized is they feel safe – the foundation will not fall out – things won’t keep changing without considering them.

The most disruptive child or students needs a structured and safe environment to just BE.

How Healthy is Your Forgiveness?

How many times have you heard this affirmation? ~Forgiveness is for YOU! It is not for the offender but for the offended….

Too many times to count if, like me, you consistently look for the best self -care information available – So YES, I agree forgiveness is for the forgiver BUT I have also learned that just forgiveness alone without some foundations and filters can be detrimental to your health. In fact, research shows that forgiving too readily can erode self-respect and lead to  greater relationship problems and partners that are more disagreeable shared Therapist David Bedrick (Psychology Today Blog, 2006)

 Today, I would like to share the basic foundation and filters suggested to move forward in stealthier forgiveness health❤ We will delve more in depth in future blogs. My personal experiences with being an unfit forgiver almost cost me my sanity.       

Forgiveness must be founded in clarity ~ on the truth about what needs to be forgiven.  Ask yourself, “What about this hurts me?” Not simply I forgive because it is the right thing to do. I think this foundational step for forgiveness is the most difficult when it involves someone we love and respect.  This truth may be difficult because it could be that you will have to admit that something terribly malicious has been directed at you by someone you genuinely care about and thought cared about you.  Rather than deal with this, we move on to an unfiltered forgiveness.   The problem with moving through the process of forgiveness without this foundation is that we disregard our own pain in exchange for providing another with an escape from ownership of the pain they have caused.

Filter your forgiveness ~ Now that you have established what needs to be forgiven – the filtering is next.  Remember, we have heard it a million times-FORGIVENESS IS FOR YOU.    Have you decided whether you will deal with this pain internally or will you need to confront the offender? And lastly decide will your fit forgiveness require an acknowledgement from the offender or not? Decide on answers that bring healing to you. Healthy forgiveness passes through these filters ~ you are then practicing self-love and only then are you ready to present yourself with the gift of forgiveness.

Morag Noffke

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