Spiritual, Physical, and Mental Health=Fitness

Is this Real?

Is this real?

I am sitting in one of my favorite spots on the whole earth, my chair in Room 4 with my class gathered around me on the carpet.  Each child is hunched over a small white board talking intently with their partner about why the bats in the United States have been dying over the last few years.  There is a buzz of energy as they puzzle over what could be killing the bats.  Suddenly Jaden C.  looks up and captures my gaze, “Mrs. Fante…is this real?”

It is a defining moment for me as I am immediately struck by the power of her question.  This year, I made a pedagogical shift as I committed to move from being a hands-on teacher to being an advocacy teacher.  For the last 20 years of my teaching career, I have been engaging children.  I have worn silly hats, tapped danced, stood on top of my desk, and created side shows of epic proportions.  But the truth is, there is always a last curtain call.  As the music fades, I move from the active phase of being the teacher to the passive memory of being one of many past teachers.  And we both wonder…what happens next?

But what if instead of entertaining, I trained them to find their own answers?  What if I empowered them to look at the world through the lens of problem solver seekers?  What if they believed, they could spend their lives making the world better?  And so we begin.  This year, we are going to #savethebats.

Our year-long bat conservation project came out of my own passion for the bats that live in my backyard.  My husband and I like to think our bats know us as they swoop low and close to catch the bugs our bodies bring.  When my neighbor’s 100 year old willow came down, we anxiously waited for them.  When their black bodies flitted into twilight skies, it was sweet relief.  Mike turned to me causally and said, “You should help the bats this year, it fits with F.L.I.G.HT.”

By 5:00AM his comment had blossomed into curriculum as I thought about what an environmental focus would mean to my classroom.  I was thrilled to realize one of the premiere bat conservations groups was just 12 miles away from my school at Cranbrook Institute of Science.  The timing was almost supernatural, as the OBC (Organization for Bat Conservation) was hosting a bio-blitz event to talk about how to help bats.

Team Fante went to Cranbrook on a gorgeous late summer evening and discovered the bats were losing more than just willows.  At a lecture hosted by the OBC’s charismatic Rob Mies, he shared the bats are facing many threats, including fighting the white nosed syndrome and loss of habitat.  Julia Liljegren of the Nation Wildlife Federation talked about creating a backyard habitat to help local bats.

Mike and I decided to start right away.  On the home front, he went to work ripping out the non-native plants in our landscape and replacing them with butterfly bushes and bee balm.  At school, I reached out the Holly Vaughn a local DNR officer who had worked with my class on invasive species, Danielle Todd of the (OBC) Organization for Bat Conservation, and Julia from NWF (National Wildlife Federation).  Our google hangout led to a list of action steps.  By the time the other teachers were back at school, I was ready to share my vision for a community garden.

I committed myself to set aside a few hours each week to work on grant writing at home and at school we kicked off our introduction to our science curriculum with a F.L.I.G.HT. Bat Festival.  We spent the morning doing Bat Yoga and doing bat research, and in the afternoon the kids got to experience Batty Stations.  They worked on earning digital badges from the OBC.  At the Lego Engineering station they created their own bat species, at the Echolocation Station they experimented with their ears to understand the importance of sound, and at the Bat Biologist Station they weighed, measure, and ID plastic and stuffed animal bats.

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The last two weeks have been filled with bats.  My kids have read, researched, and blogged about bats. We talked about the best ways to help the bats, and each child created a design for a bat garden.  I even used one of their designs in my Wild Ones Seeds Grant Application.  And this is just the beginning as we use the bat project all year to ask meaningful questions and find answers for how we can #savethebats.


This year, I have in the words of Steven Covey, “begin with the end in mind”.  So on that last day, they will have an answer to what happens next.  What happens next is them.  They will go off into the world, with one years’ experience on their young resumes under the advocacy section.   They will be ready to #savethe______, and I believe that will make all the difference.

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My Story of Immigration

This not my first blog, but I want to model my own immigration story for my students.  In F.L.I.G.HT. we are learning together about immigrating.  Immigration means moving from one country to another country. My mom’s family comes from France to Novia Scotia, Canada.  My grandfather immigrated from Canada to the United States.  My mom grew up in Boston and spent her summers in Novia Scotia.  When I was a child my mom would take me the the house on the ocean in Cape Sable Island, Canada.  This year, I want to take my kids to the house so they can see the place they came from.  I like living in the United States, but I also want to learn about my past and where I came from.

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Vlogging in F.L.I.G.HT. 2.0

So I promised myself that this year, I would blog less and vlog more.  Vlogging is video blogging.  Last week I shot a series of videos in my classroom to share the improvements I have made.  I also wanted to show how we organize the many different materials it takes to run a Blended Learning, Montessori-esque  learning environment in 3rd grade.

The heart of my classroom is the library.  I have over 950 chapter books and an additional 200-300 picture books.  I keep these organized with physcial labels and Book Buddy.  I also use the Book Whisper’s 40 book challenge approach.  This mean most of the kids in my class will read at least 40 chapter books independently during the school year.

As a cooperative teacher I believe in TABLES!  Last year, I headed to a storage unit and lugged home tables without legs until I could locate legs.  My husband wood works miracles and fitted mismatched legs to bring those tables back to life.  This year, I outfitted all the stations with color coded, beautifully organized materials.  It is making all the difference with 29 kids in a small space.

My mobile learning cart is a thing of beauty.  Once again, my husband worked his magic to create a way for me to organize the many different stations I do with the kids.  Never again will I create a station only to have it lost in a file cabinet.

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Carolyn’s Happy Ending

Its 4:00PM and I am frantically trying to get to my son’s pickup.  My body drips with exhaustion, but my heart sings with fulfillment having spent the week loving all the kids in my life.  In the mad rush of a Friday filled with a fun run, class news, and popsicles I have ignored the constant beeping of my cell, but finally I realized several friends have texted and it is urgent.  Erin’s voice breaks over the words she uses to tell me Carolyn is gone.

And the world slips out of focus, tilting and spinning with the impossible news.  I will spend the evening curled on the swing in my backyard as the memories wash over me and the waves of sorrow come.

It’s four years earlier and Carolyn is sitting on my couch.  I have invited several friends from my book club to a bible study at my home.  For our study, we have chosen a series called Heaven.  Together we listen to a video as the author tells us that much of the Bible is devoted to giving us a picture of the other side.

There are tears as Carolyn shares the sorrow of losing her mother at a young age.  And yet, as we eat, talk, pray, and cry some of the fear slips away.   We move our thoughts from the business of packing lunches and hauling kids to practice and instead spend time imagining that, “other shore”. And over a few weeks I can feel the shift as she moves from anger towards peace.

One short year later, it’s Eden’s birthday and she and Ella make bracelets.  Carolyn pulls me to the side and we hug and secretly wipe away tears as she shares that she will be battling breast cancer.   I call the troupes and the crock pots arrive with a regular rhythm.

It’s late summer and now it is Carolyn who stands at Scott’s bed side. She squeezes my hand and speaks of the miracle that has pulled her husband back from the brink.  Her own sickness forgotten, she looks at me with a face filled with faith and strength.  She has refused to let him go.

Its early fall, and this time we sit at Panera and sip coffee. The cancer is back and there is more than before.  I share a Bible across the table offering the only real hope I have.  Since we don’t know the journey ahead, we arrange a meeting spot on the other side.  She is going to meet me at the Tree of Life.

The winter cold whips at my face, I am at Macy’s buying shoes for Zeke.  Scott has asked me to reach out, because this last season has brought so much pain.  I find a quiet corner in the shoe department and make the call.  Once again together, we pray and cry and ask God for comfort and for relief.  I remind her of the Tree.

And now in my backyard on the day of her death, memories spill into  vision.  It is late evening, and the sunlight has gone golden.  The leaves rustle with a warm breeze as crickets chirp sweet songs.   My body hunched with age, hands knarred by time and care, I hesitantly move forward.  There ahead I see a lovely lithe girl.  Her hair falls dark and thick around sky blue eyes.  Her pink translucence skin shines with youth and health.   A smile splits her face and it is the familiar dimple that brings recognition.

“Amber, I have been waiting.  How are you? Its’ even more wonderful here than we imagined.   I have so many things to show you.  But first, He’s waiting.  Are you ready to meet Him?  Come with me, I will take you to Him. “

She helps me shed skin like an old worn dress and take on the beauty of everlasting soul.  And together we hold hands and walk into our own eternal happy ending.

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My PBL Marriage, and a F.L.I.G.HT 2.0 Epiphany

This summer I have been waiting for that epiphanal moment where I know with confidence….this coming school year is about ________.  It floods me with excitement and enthusiasm for the coming year and sends me straight to Kmart to check on back to school sales.  Usually inspiration comes from the educational publications, TED talks, and research.  When June came and went without that moment, I was a tiny bit anxious…but I still had lots of time.  In July I attended a CUE Rockstar Teacher Technology camp, and although I left with a long list of apps and websites to try no moment came…at least not right away.  My brain was working on putting together the fireworks, but I needed a little reflection.

It happened in my kitchen at 6:45AM on July 23rd as I sat looking at my yearly curriculum calendar.  I kept thinking about how I want the kids in my classroom to learn the same way I learn…I want them to experience the joy of making a discovery, the curiosity I have about the world, and the pleasure I experience as I investigate the issues that matter to me and how I work to solve problems for the people I love.  And then there was a cognitive explosion of color and a flood of emotion as I realized this year is not about what I have learned from others…it is about what I have learned from my own life! It is about the journey of self-discovery I share with my husband Mike.

The truth is that I am blessed to have found a life partner that LOVES to learn as much as I do.  August marks 19 years of marriage, which have included a wide variety of themes and projects. Together we have investigated spiritual growth, home renovation, furniture making, and raising gluten-free kids.  Along the way we have become experts in some things like nutrition, travel baseball, and visiting National Parks, while we remain lifelong learners in others like being a great parent without losing your mind and reading through the Bible.

We feed our passion for these projects with constant information.  Magazines like Runner’s World, Sports Illustrated Kids, and Fine Woodworking fill our mailbox.  We use YouTube to catch up with Tony Horton’s latest release, check out places to visit in the Smoky Mountains, and research the best way for a catcher to release the ball.  And we are always looking for something fresh and interesting to help us answer a question, improve our technique, or set another goal.  Just last week we found a free 150 pound tire which we had to lug home so we could beat at it with a rubber mallet until our lats ached with exhaustion.  It is our latest acquisition in the never-ending, “Get Ripped Project”.

Of course not every project is one we share…Mike is a hunting and fishing aficionado  and I am an educational evangelist.  But there is shared respect and support.  I cook venison chili and agree to allow our list of future big ticket purchases to include 80 acres and he built chairs for guided reading and brings home turkey feathers for the kids in my F.L.I.G.HT. classroom to use as bookmarks.  We use our projects as ways to express affection, share passion, and strengthen our connection.

And so for this coming school year, my class is going full PBL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  PBL stands for Project Based Learning.  It means that all year the kids and I are going to be working on learning through solving problems and journeys of self-discovery.  We are going to frame our investigations into year long cross curricular projects that will produce huge learning gains.  They will question, read, and research with intensity.  Because the kids are going to be answering their own questions, they will have the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be a life-long learner, with me as their partner.

At a meeting with my student teachers last week, I shared that I am so excited to go back to school I am coming out of my skin.  I can’t wait to learn alongside the kids in my care knowing they have so many valuable lessons to teach me. F.L.I.G.HT. is going 2.0 and I have finally found my educational platform.  It more than powerful than an approach to lesson planning or a software system… it is a lifestyle of endless learning.  It has the power to transform the way we view education.  Because in the end, the greatest project of my life is not to learn so I can know, but to learn so I can love.

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Branding Kids as Gritty

It is the first glorious Saturday in early may.  The breeze is a perfect balance blend of warmth and cool scented with the freshness of cut grass and green growth.  My sons swing, throw, hit and dive with relish onto summer diamonds and instead of my usual posture of clinging to the fences, I am sweating in a classroom at Wayne State listening as a teacher pours out a story of failure.  The ballad he sings has a familiar chorus.  It is one I could write if I had any musical talent.  But today I am not mentor or muse, but instead peer and compatriot as he shares a story which is only his to tell and mine to feel.

It started out so promising as most fabulous failures are apt to do.  The year before he had media worthy success and this year in an attempt to increase his effectiveness he gave the kids more space to grow, explore, and even fail. And this year with a new crop of kids…the outcome was different.  I watch him rub his brow, frown, and squirm clenching and unclenching his jaw as he grows more agitated .  I feel his irritation and mounting frustration at the process of trial and error, risk and reward.  He knows some students have grown and learned exponentially, but his fear is NOT ALL.  And he is greedy for all kids to  reach the peak, he doesn’t want even one left behind.

This mystery of how to move all kids along the motivational continuum is my personal obsession.  It has defined my work as an educator, a parent, and a person.  How is it possible that someone who was once obese is now a health and fitness gluten and dairy free fanatic? How can my child have morphed from a speech delayed special needs student into a child who is well like by peers and a pitching star?   How can the children in my Title 1 classroom have so much academic growth?  On some long days I wish for a quick recipe that would fit the 140 characters of my Tweet, but I think of Einstein’s famous words on complexity, ” Everything should be as simple as possible but not simpler.”  The truth of these massive movements is they have taken mountains of gritty effort.

Grit…the magic ingredient which spurs genius into invention and allows you to face the sacrifice of grueling hours and unending task lists without blinking or balking.  What is it that produces this quality in us?  In others?  And above all, how do we teach children to have grit without grinding away at their creativity and imagination?  I know that I am gritty about my children and their successes, but how do I teach them to be gritty about their own futures? For grit without a passion and purpose is a life sentence in a concentration camp, a hopeless unending means of torture…but when the light of hope blazes brightly, it is a Rocky-esque montage of chasing chickens and jumping rope. It speeds by in the blink of eye and suddenly you are ready to face the Russian in the ring and knock him senseless.  But before they are lifting weights at 6:00AM on a 20 degree morning, completing year long inquiry projects with minimal supervision, or piling dishes into the dishwasher without being asked…I have to give them a VISION of why.

And here is what I know so far about grit…it is tied to identify.  When I BELIEVE in what might be, it empowers me to reach out with an expectant  hand.  Many kids and grownup do not believe they can change their lives.  Blinded by heaps of disappointment and personal struggle they give up on hope and live in the land of survival.  When you hope for something better your sacrifice means a reward awaits, when your mental state is maintaining existence you view delayed gratification as too much to ask.  If I know that I am college bound, my homework can feel like meaningless drivel but I do it because it is an means to an end.  But if my vision of myself as a college graduate is murkier…if I am unsure of how I am getting to college and if I will have the means to complete a degree, if I don’t see the value in a college degree because the degrees they offer have nothing to do with how I like to spend my time…why sit at a desk puzzling over Algebra when I could be watching Captain Sparkles defeat Zombies?

In my classroom I have fought everyday to show my students how to have a growth mindset.  By branding our Room 4 mantra as F.L.I.G.HT. (Fearlessly Learning Growing Improving so we can Hit Targets), I have asked them to develop new ways of viewing the future.  I have tried to create a group identify so can view themselves as capable of having bright and beautiful futures.  Some of them have internalized the group’s identity, I hear them ask one another, “Is that what a leader does?” While others still struggle tremendously to move along the motivation continuum.  And although even these students have had great academic achievements this year the work they have done has been for me and not for themselves.  Even after a year of modeling success and leadership on a daily basis they do not view themselves as capable of more.

These kids need piles of external rewards as a I work ceaselessly to incentivize their good choices.  And over the year, they have come to trust in my even handed justice.  They know I will deliver on both rewards and punishments.  Because this group has such low levels of grit, working independently is a relentless struggle.  They need constant monitoring or they are unable to complete even the most creative and interesting tasks.  In a classroom where free choice is valued, they present a unique challenge to a open ended learning environment.  Things are the worst when there is a substitute teacher.  When I am removed they are left without the strong external regulators they have come to rely upon.  They often find themselves unable to remained focused on working productively.  And yet, there have been huge gains.  These same challenging students have moved 2-3 RIT bands of growth as measured by NWEA, they have achieved A-B averages on a rigorous science and social studies curriculum, and they have turned in nightly homework.  They might have only done because of external pressures but they HAVE done some amazing things.

And what of the others?  The others have achieved more than I dreamed of…At almost every level they have surpassed what I thought was possible because more than their faith in me, they have come to believe in themselves.  They are leaving Room 4 convinced they are smart, capable of growth, understanding mistakes are how you learn, and they view themselves as scholars and leaders.  They know leaders act in certain ways and I believe some of these kids have grown in grit, developed habits and patterns of success.  They have moved farther along the motivational continuum stretching towards the promised land of  fully self regulated internal motivation.

This year with these kids has taught me that if we are going to help students grow the grit they need to become hyper motivated, we need to show them how to identify with these levels of success.  My classroom brand has created a group identify which kids used differently.  For some it was exposure to a totally differently way of viewing themselves as scholars and leaders.  This growth mindset challenges their previously formed identities causing ripples of internal conflict.  Others were able to assimilate the F.L.I.G.HT. brand with their personal choices.  For these F.L.I.G.HT.  Is no longer a choice, but a series of guidelines for the way they live life, as it become a part of their identify.  I believe I cannot teach content in a way that will impact how kids think…until I have changed or at least challenged the way they think about themselves.  And I will never have students with enough grit to work on challenging rigorous tasks independently UNTIL they view working in this way as a realize their hopes and dreams. So when our ambitious classroom projects fail, I think we need to ask ourselves did ALL fail?  And of those who failed was the project, class, assignment tied to a critical part of their identity, or was it just an assignment?  For the children in my life and their success are a HUGE part of my identity.  Their failures and struggles are my own as I work with grit and determination to remove the obstacles to help them find a dream of what they might be…

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Setting the Table for Motivation

All of my adult life I have been obsessed with stories of passionately motivated individuals.  Some of the best stories involve a person who wanders aimlessly blowing through life with little ambition until they stumbled into the perfect nexus of interest and self realization.  I have read stories of young Olympians driven by the relentless pursuit of excellence, inventors undaunted by countless failure, and political leaders determined to create waves of change.

In fact, in my own motivational journey I wandered somewhat like the Israelites in the desert until I found my path as an educator.  I knew I loved learning, and I knew I could teach, but I was interested in so many things I had a hard time focusing in on one path.  I also had some pretty bad habits.  I was creative but disorganized, intelligent but unchallenged, and basically inconsistent at bringing it everyday.  I grew up in a family with some serious economic struggles and I felt the insecurity of my position all the time.  It was not until Mike, my future husband, came into my life with his perfectly matched sock drawer that things started to change.

Mike helped me channel my chaotic approach to all things by asking me to complete ONE degree.  By the time I have met him, I had switched from pre-law, to psychology, and was going to take off a year to write the next great American novel.  He told me greatness started with staying on one path AND putting the toilet paper on the roll a certain way.  He pushed me to go back and register for next semester, and when I showed him my registration card…he asked me to marry him.

He and I are ying and yang, a blend of creativity and dailyness.  Our marriage of almost 19 years is an epic love story of the ultimate growth mindset.  We leave each other so much space to keep becoming more.  And every time I wander into his basement workshop where every tool is lined up by size and purpose, I am inspired by his modeling.  My third grade classroom with its beautiful well stocked bookcases, meticulously kept math manipulates, and purposefully planned themed is a result of his influence in my life.

So this year, when I started to pick up my pace in my third grade science and social studies curriculum, and more and more students started to fail…I knew I needed to do something.  I was not willing to slow down.  I passionately believe in exposing kids to many different ideas in the classroom and I was not going to skip entire units just to drill and kill the vocab words which were a part of the assessments we used for our focus school data.  I wanted to spend my class time on exciting experiments, answering student created questions, and creating innovative projects…but MANY of my kids were not studying.  Despite the fact  I created quizlets, and flipped my instruction with videos,   they were not putting in enough effort to earn high marks.

I realized that some of the kids in my Title One building needed to be motivated by having a picture of what success feels like.  They were too young to be content with their own failure.  I reached back to my experiences as a college instructor and decided to implement a reward called, The Dean’s List Luncheon.  It would be a special lunch to honor the kids who had As and Bs in science and social studies tests.  I had no idea if it would work, but I kept thinking about how much I needed role modeling for my own transformation.

When I announced the luncheon, the kids were on fire.  They were so excited, they talked about it incessantly, asking when the event would occur.  After each test they would swarm me demanding to know if an 85% was good enough to earn a spot at the luncheon.  When several didn’t make it, they insisted on a retest, pleading with me to give them another chance.  Knowing this meant more time spent studying I relented and they crammed.  Each morning, I would be met in the hallway by at least one of them stating with confidence, “I’m ready, I studied for a couple of hours last night.”

The day before the formal invitations went out, the classroom was a beehive of excited energy.  I looked up from administering an oral reading assessment to discover they had created a list on the board of attendees and kids were lining up to write their name.  In their student blogs, the forum was full of banter about the luncheon, “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I made the luncheon.  Are you going?”

Even my highest achieving students, the ones who didn’t seem to need any extra incentives were bubbling over. As we left for the day, one friend said, “There is no way I am going to be able to sleep tonight…I laid out my clothes on Monday.”

And so the big day arrived and with it my third graders entered the school, “dressed to impress”.  Decked out in polo shirts and dresses they were so proud of themselves.  You would have thought I offered them the moon tied with a silver ribbon instead of pasta and a Costco cake.  And my results were impressive, I went from 4 kids with a B or above average to 17 kids who were eligible.

Once again I have learned from my students.  It takes effort and grit to study, but kids are willing to do the work when they have a vision for themselves.  To create a culture of high academic achievement you have to model what success feels like.  And once kids feel their successful they become hungry for more.  Just as Mike has been my catalyst for change, so I am a spark for my students, igniting motivation and fanning its flame into a roaring fire of desire for more.



5 Minutes of Change…

5 mins to share your story….5 minutes to change your life.

In November of 2013, I was searching the MACUL website and I came across those words…5 minutes to share your story.  The conference was calling for Lightning Speaker to do an Ignite talk.  I remember screaming out loud as I read through the description, “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!”  It was like someone went inside my brain and decided to present me with the exact stage I hoped existed.  I was in the beginning stages of my first year of a massive mid life career change.  I had left my job as a full time college faculty member to reinvent myself as an elementary teacher and all I wanted to do all the time was talk about teaching kids.

If passion is my byline, then teaching is my muse. From the beginning of the school year, I kept wandering around the halls thinking,” I can’t believe they are paying me to do this job.”  Reading stories, dressing like Wonder Woman, playing math games, and growing bean sprouts with kids felt like Christmas every single day.  I was utterly in love with teaching my first graders, and I could tell from the bear hugs I got, the feeling was mutual.  A lightening speech would be the exact platform to share my story.

It was Thanksgiving Break so I decided to get up early and write out a script.  It took a couple of hours, and when it was finished I read it over and over drinking in every word.  It was a perfect description of my journey.  It talked about why I had started out teaching K-12 then left for a decade, only to return.  It was an explanation of my life and it helped me make sense of the detours and road stops.  All I had to do was add slides and upload to YouTube.  I was going to share my story and change my life.

You can’t begin to imagine my devastation when I opened the application again during my winter break to realize…I missed the deadline.  I cried for an hour, sitting at the computer with tears dripping off my chin and into keyboard.  My nephew knocked at the door arriving early for the school he attends with my boys.  I commanded him to sit down and I delivered my Lightning Talk to him.  I can still see his 12 year face peering quizzically at me.  “Yes, Auntie. It’s good.  Why are you crying?  Can’t you try again next year?”

A whole year to wait…a whole year to learn…and finally I realized a whole year to revise.

In that year of waiting…I pulled out my script every month or so, just to read it again.  And one day I realized it was all about me, instead of being about them.  I was telling my story instead of theirs.  So I made a decision to give myself permission to throw all my work away and start over.  I walked away from 20 hours of labor in the middle of my most challenging workload because I needed EVERY SINGLE word to count for them.  I needed words to give voice to why I set my alarm for 4AM, why I cried over their hurts, why I spent so much money on my classroom, and never had time for lunch in the lounge.  I needed words to remind all the teachers and people within earshot not to give up on me…or them.

I wrote it down and threw it away at least 10 different times.  I drew pictures in my mind, ran laps around the neighborhood, thought about my speech in the shower, and still couldn’t find the words.  Words have always been my friend, they had never failed me before but now none were good enough.  I realized I needed an analogy, something so POWERFUL it would change the way teachers viewed children and help them to see them differently. But, as the year slipped by…I was running out of time.

One day in late December as I was driving to school with my six year old daughter we were listening to Charlotte’s Web.  Listening to this story with her was like hearing it for the first time.  We laughed at Wilbur’s backflips, tutted at the Goose, and when Charlotte gave up her life, we both sobbed.  Sitting in my car outside my Title One Building holding her close, I whispered into her ear, “We are like Charlotte, Eden.  We will find good words to write in the webs of people we love.”  And so Support Webs from the Gap was born.

It is my love song, as Charlotte would say, “My Magnum Opus”.  I carefully crafted every single word, and purposefully planned each phrase.  I have pushed myself to live out the message of this speech in my classroom and in my home.  It has been a struggle.  There have been days when I have been so exhausted by the challenge of working with kids, the price for belief so great that I have had to pack it up and call it a night knowing that sleep with restore my faith

The night before I gave my speech was especially terrible.  My oldest son, let me down.  And weary from the strain of the moment that was almost upon me, I collapsed into tears on his bed ready to give up.  He gathered me into his arms, “Mom, you don’t know how to quit.  That is what makes you so great.  Mom, remember what you wrote in my web…it’s, ‘Hero’.  It will save me Mom.  Now go and say it for them.”

And so standing on a MACUL stage in the middle of March, I removed the curtain and let a crowd peer into my soul.  And all of those hours spent memorizing lines and laboring over syllables slipped away as my talk became a battle cry for the children from the gap.  If you get a chance to listen…I hope this is a image that sticks with you like it has with me.  I hope you see someone you love and the web you have over them.  I pray you decide to choose a label of hope.  And know that I am with you…beside you…believing together we can  all become something more.


“Now is Now and it can Never be Forgotten”


It is still dark when we hear these words, a simple line that drifts from the past and cements the bond of mother and daughter of reader and writer, words that will change a life.  My day started ridiculously early as my overfilled brain denies me much needed sleep and peppers my consciousness with the things I have forgotten to do.  I finally give up and head downstairs and into a day’s checklist which is impossible to complete.  I hit Audible and start baking as this evening’s events will include a party and I have promised gluten free chocolate chip cookies.  Teach Like your Hair in on Fire, Rafe Esquith’s amazing mantra of what good teaching can produce in the life of a child blares from my iPhone.  I whip organic coconut sugar and brown rice flour into a bowl as he tells of taking the children in his classroom on trips across the country, teaching them to play classical guitar music, and starting school at 6:30 AM to work on problem solving.  I am humbled by his achievement as I unload the dishwasher and brought to tears as I sweep the floor.  I begin my own classroom newsletter, inspired to remind the parents and children of Room 4 that we are going somewhere special.  I write furiously of my plans for change working past the banging of the porch door as Mike heads out to the garage for our morning workout.  By the time I shut down my computer and race out to join him, I have already missed the warm-up.  I grunt as we lift weights and pull up on the bar, straining and groaning against the unfamiliar routines of our new workout program.  Still we are together as our commitment in the dark drives us. By the end, I feel the renewal of my endorphin payoff and our strengthened connection.

I rush back into the house, shower, grab Eden and hurry her through the morning routines.  Finally we are packed into the car with the familiar school day items.  Her seat organizer overflowing with markers, paper, small toys, books, she knows we should practice the spelling list one more time.  Still we are close to the close of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story Little House in the Big Woods. Before Eden was born I painted her room pink and placed the box set in her room.  She is in many ways like the Laura, in the story being six years old with a smile full of missing teeth. I am so grateful to return to the big woods with her and learn about the struggles and joy of making butter and maple syrup.  My endless task list pales in comparison to Ma Ingall’s work to fill the table with hulled corn and milk for supper.  Eden and I are silent as we listen in to the final chapter, The Deer in the Woods.  Pa has returned from hunting unable to kill any of the game he sees because, as he explains to his small children, they are so beautifully a part of this world.  The children fall asleep to the flickering image of Ma mending in her rocking chair and Pa with his fiddle.  As Laura slips away she promises she will carry this image forever, “because now is now and it can never be forgotten.”  I stop the disk and look back into the shining eyes of my own pioneer.  And although she and I make copies instead of butter…I know she gets it.

“Eden, I will never forget going to work together.  I will never forget reading you the spelling words, or telling you stories on the way home. I will never forget the dark rides in and the long rides home, because now is now and it can never be forgotten.”

She looks up and says it back to me, “because now is now and it can never be forgotten. Mom write it like Laura.”

And all through the long day I say it to myself, “because now is now and it can never be forgotten.”

I say it during our F.L.I. G.HT. morning meeting as I share how much I love books and why they inspire me to write.

I say it during the good parts of my day when we are reading on the carpet together.  I say it when the day is challenging.  Some of my munchkins are sleepy and their behavior flares up.  They require endless amounts of patience and understanding.  By the time I make it to recess I am exhausted from both the day and their bottomless pit of need.  There will be time against the wall, and as I slump down to sit beside them Eden rushes up to me, her class also at recess.  She sees that I am sitting on the wall and she knows my day has been rough.  She hugs with with all of her heart and whispers, “because now is now and it can never be forgotten.” Her presence fills my bucket just enough.

I find once again my offers of love, forgiveness, and hope heal wounds and by the end of the day there are apologies and hugs.  Eden and I race from school, pushing now towards the sweetness of home and friends.  And all that night as we trunk or treat from the back of our car strung with glowing ghost lights and heaps of candy, as we dance under the moon with friends, as we keep the party going with a trip to another friend’s house for an after-glow event we smile and laugh.  And I remember to drink in my life…knowing that I will write this day down because once there are words “now is now and it can never be forgotten.”

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Taking F.L.I.G.HT.



It is late August, the early morning sunshine is streaming through the screen door and I have gathered my children for our first F.L.I.G.HT. morning meeting. Elijah rubs sleep from his teenage eyes, “Mom, your crazy! Let me get this straight you want us to get up an extra 10 minutes early every day so we can tell each other about our weaknesses…OK that sounds SUPER fun” the sarcasm drips from his voice.

“Listen,” I plead, “it is not really that bad. I just want the good things I do to start here with you…my own kids and then to spread out into the lives of the kids in my class.”

He shrugs still not convinced but skeptically leans against the couch willing to keep at least one eye open.

“Ok here is the plan.” I share with them my classroom theme for the year. It is F.L.I.G.HT. I have sketched out a beautiful blueprint of how I am going to bring my theme to life in my classroom.  I will use colorful patterns and carefully thought out references to flying, and there will be birds everywhere. I will hang a canopy over my carpet and refer to it as, “The Nest”. But the most important part of F.L.I.G.HT. is not the furniture that Mike and I built over the summer or the hand painted mural, the best part of F.L.I.G.HT. is what it means.

The F is for fearless.

I am hoping I can teach the children in my life (both my cohabitants and coworkers) being fearless means to face your weakness. It means be willing to own the things you screw up and the stuff you wish you were better at.

The L is for learning.

To me learning is all about studying how to beat your weakness. As a self-help reading addict and a student of social psychology, I am always asking, “How can I become more?”

I is for improving.

Right smack is the middle, the I is the hardest part. I believe to improve you have to practice, practice, practice. You can admit your weak, you can know how to get better, but if you don’t put in the effort you will never change.

G is growing.

This summer I read Mindset by Carol Deweke. Having a growth mindset means you believe anyone can change and be better. For me it means believing the kids in my life can achieve greatness even if nature didn’t bless them them with an easy path.

The H and T go together…Hitting Targets.

If you know me, you know I am all about goal setting. I write them on my kid’s pillow cases, print them out on their checklists, and talk about them almost daily. I want all my kids to have huge goals. I want them to reach down and find some kind of quality they didn’t know they had.

I start out with F …being Fearless.

“OK kids. Here is mom’s weakness. I am too busy. I am trying to do so many things at once and sometimes it stresses me out. But I want you to know why I am going to attempt going to Master classes on Monday and Tuesday evening, after a day of teaching school. We have this goal that mom will be a principal and I need these extra classes to get my administrator’s certificate.”

Eden my six year old is crying. “But mommy, we need you too isn’t there another way?”

And that is when the magic happens…looking at her small face filled with tears I realize there has to be a different kind of solution. I make a few phone call and and find a program that is entirely online. Nope it is not the Top 10 school I had already registered for, but instead I will attend my classes sitting on the floor of my walk-in closet. It is a much better solution and I only found it because I was willing to share my weakness with my children.

And now there are 24 souls that sit at the edge of my Nest each day. They are amazingly courageous remarkable innovative problem solvers.  They decide on the first day to reward all my efforts to make our classroom beautiful with hugs and smiles. With glad hearts they become my morning companions at our daily flight meetings.

When I share my weakness of getting upset before school when my son tells me he is reading his Kindle but I catch him watching you tube videos, they admit they have done this as well. “Mrs. Fante, I lie to my mom too much. Maybe next time I will put my dirty clothes in the hamper instead of under my bed.” We all laugh and talk about the kind of integrity you need to make blended learning work. We all agree to hold each other accountable for using our time wisely.

I can not imagine what a year of sharing my failures with these children is going to do for me.  Here I thought F.L.I.G.HT. was about my efforts to improve their lives. But now I understand. I cannot reach them unless I am willing to let them help me. They need to see the real person who struggles each day to the edge of the nest, closes her eyes tight, and decides to stay safe or take a lead of faith off the cliff of herself to soar through endless skies. Somehow knowing my flight companions are perched waiting to see what happens makes my leap less of a decision and more of a commitment.


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