“If you can’t fix it, feature it.” One brilliant line from one exceptional soul that has helped shape our inner core in two short weeks.
Sailing strong on our pirate journey, I couldn’t help but think, “This is as good as it gets.” Thanks to superheroes like Angela Maiers, Dave Burgess, and Paul Solarz, my students had evolved into compassionate leaders desperately wanting to make a difference. They had married the “You Matter” movement with the “Pirate” philosophy completely on their own and many times, I was simply in awe of them. Crew 202 had surpassed all expectations I ever thought imaginable in a fourth grade classroom.
Two weeks ago, our journey suddenly came to a halt. We met a rockstar. Lourds Lane’s SuperYou Curriculum had sort of fallen into my lap in March and although, admittedly, my reaction was not very “pirate,” I worried if this would be “one more thing” to add to my students’ plates (and my own). So for the next month, I occasionally visited her lessons and teacher supplements yet there was one additional item that kept drawing me back to her work, her original song, “I am a Superhero.” I remember playing it for my students one day when we were preparing for our week of state testing and from that moment on, we were hooked. I knew then there was something genius in the air, that Lourds’ musical background and passion combined would soon rock our world.
Over April Vacation, I decided to “pirate up” and learn as much as I could about the lessons Lourds so beautifully created to empower children. Her vision was supported by reputable advisors and educators, including the Wellesley Women’s Center, who helped her to include the Common Core Learning Standards. We would later discover that this amazing curriculum was born from personal experiences combined with a heartfelt desire to end bullying. She strongly feels that to end bullying, we need to address the root of the problem — empower the child. I couldn’t wait to start “SuperYou” with my students and knowing it was coming their way, they were excited to greet it. Before break, I reinforced to them that “SuperYou” would only make them better pirates, because I truly believed it would.
The first day back from vacation, we started a new journey that would soon personalize our “pirate” experience and dig out of our souls what we never knew existed. In just the first lesson, we were asked to redefine “superhero” as a real person in every day life and identify positive traits they possess. This pushed students to think “outside of the box” as well as move closer to the idea that they too could be superheroes. Then came the magic, creating a superpower for ourselves. Choosing a real life superpower is one thing, but pushing yourself to think beyond a character trait you already posses is life changing. To Lourds, it’s not just about what we already do well, it’s just as much about what we don’t. I bring enthusiasm to the table, but my “challenge crushing” trait I wish I used more often is mental strength. So, I chose courageous and since then, my superpower has become a constant reminder of not only who I am, but who I want to be in any given situation.
Sharing my thought process with my students right in the moment as well as over time gave them the freedom to embrace every part of themselves in choosing their own superpowers. I also showed clips from Lourds’ TEDWomen talk so my students could see that although her life was far from perfect, it was every part of her life that shaped who she is today. Deciding upon superpowers led us to brainstorm superhero names, which was not easy, but so much fun! My students gave me the name “Lioness Pirate” and this is what they now refer to me as. They continued with helping each other brainstorm a superhero name, which was truly amazing as it pushed students to think of all of the positive traits their classmates possess.
By the middle of the week, we were geared up for an unforgettable 45 minute Skype session with Lourds herself. Wanting to connect with students who are empowered by “SuperYou,” she not only agreed to “meet” my students, but brought her heart and soul. Her passion was so captivating, there were moments where my students didn’t know what to do, but sit and stare. Lourds not only answered every one of their questions with clarity and honesty, but also asked students to think deeply about how their superpowers empower themselves as well as each other. In expressing to us that one of her own superpowers is love, she was showing students how to empower as we felt love so strongly illuminating from her. The highlight came at the end when she sang “I am a Superhero” with my students. (link to video)
Last weekend, I had the experience of a lifetime. I was incredibly fortunate to attend the BrainPOP Advisory weekend at the BrainPOP headquarters in NYC and met some of the most passionate educators in the country. I learned more about blended learning and professional development than I could have possibly imagined, yet I also learned about myself. Knowing Lourds was not just an educational pioneer, but also a musical one, I discovered she was playing with her band only a twenty minute walk from where we would be Saturday night. Getting the “okay” from our group as well as with encouragement from Lourds, I decided to attend. The only problem was, I suddenly realized I would be going alone. The shyness I carried for over 30 years kicked in and I started to reconsider. For the past several months now, when doubting decisions like this, I typically say to myself, “Come on, Nili, be a pirate” and I have honestly done things I would have otherwise never done.
That night was different, though, in that I didn’t just remind myself to be a pirate, I reminded myself that I am courageous. I had promised my students I would bring my superpower with me to NYC and I wasn’t about to let them down. I realized that being courageous helped me in taking the risk I very much wanted to take and I’m not sure I would even be writing this post had I not. Not only was Lourds incredible on stage, she was even excited to see me (and by the way, as the lonely elementary school teacher waiting in line to give a rockstar a picture of his/her students, one must use courage). We have stayed connected since and I am so incredibly grateful because not only have I benefited, most importantly, so have my students.
I drove home Sunday singing louder than I normally do, knowing that I used my superpower all weekend. I had been courageous in sharing and presenting “outside of the box” ideas with my amazing group and I had been courageous in going out of my way to meet new people even though at times it was scary. I realized I was truly becoming the pirate teacher and person I wanted to be, largely due to using my superpower. I brought my whole experience back to the classroom reliving every moment of courage through pictures, videos, and stories. What happened next was unforeseeable. Through the next several SuperYou lessons full of art, poetry, and deep rooted reflection, I noticed my students experiencing the same thing. They were figuring out how to use their superpowers to be the pirate leaders they truly wanted to become just like I did. Just when I thought every student was already a pirate, I realized that many hadn’t reached their potential yet, hadn’t taken the risks they ached to take and now, they were finding their way.
When recently introduced to the Superhero Qualities we must carry with us every day, students were asked to write in their “superjournals” how these qualities make them feel. In this moment, I discovered that the SuperYou Curriculum holds the power to reach all students. The theme over the past couple of weeks seems to be utter amazement and the pictures below exemplify it.
As part of the written reflection for the SuperYou lesson on “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, we were asked to think about how we might use our superpower if faced with hateful words. What unravelled from this experience was students tapping into a place inside of them I had never asked them to visit before.
Burning Fern- “I would use my love for nature and give the person a tree, because he or she must be hurting inside.”
Lotus Flower- “I would use my calmness to not get angry.”
Tenacity Tiger– “I would use my perseverance to stay strong.”
Go-to Man- “I would use my resourcefulness to speak back with intelligent words.”
By Wednesday, it was time for another Edmodo chat and I asked Lourds to be our guest star. Of course she said “yes” and of course I had students logging on twenty minutes early and rushing home from after school activities. Besides sharing superhero names and superpowers, we shared how our superpowers were changing our lives. Students’ answers were mind blowing and although Lourds had only met them once, her responses to each and every student were too.
A few testimonials from Crew 202: How has discovering your superpower helped you as a student and person?
Rainbow Woman- “It has helped me so much and it has made me feel more confident in everything. I noticed that since I identified my superpower I felt a change in everything! I have been more positive, and a lot more happy with who I am.”
Rainbow Smile- “I feel more empowered and inspired and I 100% know that I and any person can change the world.”
Mind Mage- “It has helped me by teaching me my inner passion to get smarter :D”
Kindomatic- “It helped me to become kinder than I am right now.”
Imaginare- “It has made me feel more brave, encouraging, and imaginative.”
Braviator- “I have been taking more risks and increased my braveness.”
Colorful Creator- “Being a superhero lets you know that you can do anything. So superheroes won’t stop at anything. We will Change The World and we already are! Finding my superpower has helped because it has let me become a superhero and knowing I have a superpower I can be myself, be free, and be a Pirate!”
Colorful Man- “Discovering my super power has helped me as a student because I can help people by being expressive and know how to stand up to bullies.”
Courageous Creator- “My superpower made me a better person because it makes me want to do anything!!”
Lioness Pirate- “I have changed as a person, student, and teacher in just less than two weeks by finding my superpower in times where I need to be courageous and amazing things have happened because of it.”
Tenacity Tiger- “It has helped me as a student because I take more risks and I am able to do my best work and bring forth my best effort. It has helped me as a person because I truly believe I can do anything and to be yourself no matter what because no ones perfect!!! “ If you can’t fix it… FEATURE IT!”
Now when you are being quoted by 9 year olds, you know you have accomplished greatness. This powerful quote from Lourds’ TED talk means everything to my students. It gives us the freedom to not only appreciate and celebrate failures as true pirates do, but to also recognize their importance in making us who we are. This they learned from Lourds and through her empowering lessons, music, and stories, they are learning how to use their superpowers to handle what life throws at them.
Because we have connected with superheroes like Angela Maiers, Dave Burgess, and Paul Solarz, we have become encouraging pirates pushing ourselves to take risks. And in the short time we have known Lourds, we have unleashed our whole selves in order to make this happen. One of my students has had a difficult time being vocal all year. Last week, she asked me for a hug right in the middle of our read aloud. “Yeah, I’ll hug you!” is a line I will forever remember coming out of my mouth. Her superpower is creative. She creatively gave herself permission to speak, not in answering a challenging question she would rather discuss with a partner, but in sharing her voice and love with us in a way she had longed to do all year. Another student has been very hard on himself all year and suddenly last week, I noticed a difference in his ability to bounce back even when times got tough. His superpower is kindness and his superheroes are those who stay composed no matter what. He has uniquely decided to use his superpower to be kinder to himself and it’s working. These are two instances among many that have brought my very special crew from pirates to SUPERPIRATES and we’re better people because of it.
We are only halfway through the SuperYou curriculum and I certainly plan to write more about it as we continue our journey with Lourds and the lessons she has brought to the world. If you are using her curriculum with your students already or would like to, feel free to connect with me @nbartley6. This is only the beginning of what’s yet to come.