Saturday, May 1, 2021

With Every Season

 Right now, in my corner of the world, we are in that moment when Mother Nature cannot seem to make up her mind. One day it will be sunny and warm, and the very next day will be cold and rainy. I love to blame a lot of things on Indiana weather. However, it has made my brain spin lately with the thought of seasons and what they bring. 

I have always been intrigued by a snowflake. It might be the fact that each flake is so delicate, intricate, and beautiful. It could also be the kid in me who always imagined a society living inside that snowy design as if my life were a Dr. Suess story. 

Let's think about a snowflake for a minute: 

If you catch one in your hand or on your glove, you have seconds to enjoy the design before it melts away forever. A mere touch can cause a single flake to disappear forever. Yet, when many snowflakes join forces, this is a much different story. These flakes become forts or snowmen. These flakes cause traffic to slow and schools to halt. These flakes are anything but delicate. 

This makes me think: 

How can we harness the winter flurries within our classrooms? 

I have noticed that in this world of remote teaching, I have a few of my beautiful flakes that seem to be melting behind the screens. It is true that our shyest learners can hide behind a thumbnail, making them more comfortable.  Yet, I have also noticed that this online educational world seems to be feeding the fear of speaking out and taking part in classroom activities. Games for me have been the best method for highlighting all of my learners. I think this is due to the fact that in a game, we have a united goal. We become the snowstorm rather than a bunch of single flakes falling aimlessly from the sky. 

Debbie Holman (@debbiejholman), an outstanding teacher from Colorado and a dear friend of mine, does a writing that digs deeper into the idea of the snowflake. She has her learners construct snowflake stories. In this she has them reflect on moments in their lives that make them who they are and write them on a snowflake. I think that it is so powerful for kids to take the time to sit back and reflect on how their life journey makes them... them. We all have different hills and valleys to walk through, and those walks create the beautiful designs within us. 

As the snow quickly melts and the temperature warms, I am brought quickly to how fast things can change. I think that if there is anything that we can learn from weather, it is that as much as we want to or think we can, we simply can NOT predict it. It is ALWAYS changing. 

But isn't everything ALWAYS changing? 

I used to shrug off most of the effects of change in my life. Accepted that it was needed, scary at times but needed. Then came my spunky, amazing redhead. Her opposition to change and its effects made me want to have more control of it. Yet, as much as I hated to admit, I had no more control than she did. This made me fear change for her. I saw change as the monster lurking around each corner, just waiting to spring up and send her into an attack. Along the way, I learned to brace her for change. For some things, I could warn her ahead of time and give her the parachute of knowledge before she was thrown from the plane. As much as I want to prepare her for every change, I simply cannot. Some change jumps in front of you and gives you no chance to react. This year my daughter's best friend moved to Tennessee and I had two days to help her brace for the impact. That was truly horrible. Yet, she soon realized that thanks to technology, she can still have that connection. 

One of my favorite songs is actually called "Change" by Jason Levasseur and it highlights my relationship with change very well. 

"Change is coming and change is good. It's done everything that I ever wished it would, but it keeps me awake at night"

This year has been the year of "Bloom" for me. One of the things that I wanted with this word is to bloom into the role of a coach. I want to work with teachers and excite them with strategies to excite their learners. It has been a long process but I am proud to say that I have accepted a position as a Literacy Specialist for the South Bend School District. This change has been coming. This change is good and is exactly what I want. This change still keeps me awake at night. 

I have been at my current school for my entire teaching career. Hammond Academy is where I established myself. The teachers and students there are truly like a family to me. This journey has been an amazing season. Yet the seasons of my edu-journey are changing. This does not change how I feel about this last season. I will bring many of the skills, knowledge, and memories with me as I enter this new phase. I believe that I am ready to stroll into my season and soak in all that comes my way. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Time to PUSH UP!

     One of my goals with my #OneWord 2021 "Bloom" is to "Bloom in strength." With this in mind, I decided to take on a challenge that I saw on Twitter. Teachers on Fire Podcast (@TeachersOnFire) called out to educators to compete in the 10,000 push-ups challenge. While 10,000 push-ups may sound daunting, it actually comes to an average of 28 push-ups a day. This might actually be doable. 

But why does it have to be push-ups?

    I have always struggled with this common exercise. I remember when my cross country coach was determined to get me to do 10 push-ups without stopping. He transitioned me from wall push-ups to bench push-ups, before he thought I was ready for the floor. I always hated the idea of trying to lift my body with my scrawny little arms!

    Let's think about a push-up for a bit. It takes a body part that you know is valuable but many times take for granted, and forces that body part to hold your body weight, lower it and then lift it again. Unless you work out and train that muscle regularly, the ability to lower yourself to the ground from the plank position is just not there, neither is the ability to push your body weight back up again. Yet the more you do push-ups, the stronger your arm muscles get and the easier it becomes to achieve. 

    For some reason this made me think of the teaching situation currently. I feel that in March, teachers were thrown into a push-up position. They were forced to rely on the tech that they might have known was important yet taken for granted. For some teachers, the lowering and lifting that needed to take place was easy. There were some, however, that were panicked in the plank position and are just now getting a few reps in, showing their ability to lift their practice. 

    It is only the first month of the 10,000 push-up challenge, but I can feel my body getting stronger. At this point, I have accumulated 484 push-ups. Although I have missed 2 days that this point, I am proud of my ability to recover those missing reps. My speed has increased and my arms are not as sore afterward.

    I feel the same pride for the teachers around me, who use the tech at their fingertips to not only plank, but to push up. I know that this is all new, I know that tech might not be your jam, but just PUSH UP. 

I promise

 The more you create those breakout rooms or project websites... You will get stronger!

The more make those engaging lessons or have discussions on tools such as Flipgrid or Parlay... You will get stronger!

The more you adapt your classroom to fit not just the world today but your students as well... You will get stronger!

A plank may work the arms and ab muscles, but the strength can really be tested when you decide to PUSH-UP!   

 There is another key part of this push-up challenge. Each night when I put my number in, I can see others who are right there with me in this climb. I can travel to Twitter and see posts of encouragement. This has been so important for me. I don't feel alone in this. I have a team behind me.

    The same can be said on the educational front. There has been so much shared lately to help teachers navigate all this. You are not alone in this either, you have training partners who are fighting with you to lower from that plank.  One of my favorites is "Thrive O'Clock" with Melody McAllister and Rachelle DenĂ© Poth. They are so uplifting and real and bring a smile to my face on both Mondays and Fridays. 

    Once you have found your "training partners" in this new teaching territory, I encourage you to not only absorb the training tips but also share as well. There is a teacher right now who is in that edu-plank and struggling to just get through. They need you! They need your ideas. I think teachers need teachers more than ever right now. We need to lean on each other. We also need to know that others are feeling what we are. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

One Word 2021: Blooming From Less

 As I am sitting here, reflecting on the year, I am in disbelief that this is my fifth year now doing the #OneWord Challenge. It is amazing to me what this simple word has done for me each year. It gives me focus and guidance in a way that resolutions have never been able to. 

Reflecting on the year of Less 

Less was the perfect word to guide me in 2020. When it hit my heart for the first time and I typed last year's reflection, I was unsure if it was the right word. However, I am a strong believer in "Everything happens for a reason." There was a reason that I kept circling back to the word Less and I knew that it had to be my word, even if I was unsure why at that moment.  

Here was what I wanted Less to bring me. 

Less worry, fear, and anxiety...More faith

There have been many moments in this year where these monsters have swirled around me, attempting to stop me from taking that next step. Despite the storms that this year has brought forth, I have done my best to move forward. I moved into remote instruction. I moved into home learning for my kids.

Less self-doubt... More confidence

Through this year, I have seen something begin to come to life that I have dreamed about since I was in third grade. In June, I had the honor of signing with EduMatch Publishing. I then went through the process of completing my work. This certainly was a process. I had waves of doubt that would sweep over me. Thoughts such as "Who would want to read this?" would hit me like a train, stopping my word flow.  I was able to push passed these fear monsters and complete it, yet I do have some that linger even with the finished product. I have to hold on to the fact that there is someone out there that needs my words, someone out there who needs to hear my story. I am the only one who can tell it!

Less frustration... More breathing strategies

Wow was this tested this year. My daughter and I worked on many ways to breathe and center ourselves. We also have practiced with yoga positions and meditation. She started karate this year and the mediation there has made an impact on her, so we have used that in our remote learning toolbox. 

Less clutter... More organization

This is something that I continue to be challenged by, especially in this year. My kitchen table became my teaching desk. My living room became a second grade classroom. This created an even greater challenge in organizing these spaces. I am not giving up by any means, I just need to continue to push towards a more organized way of functioning. 

Less rush-rush... More enjoying time with family

This to me is 2020 in a nutshell. In March all of the "rush-rush" STOPPED! It was halted in its tracks. At first the shock of it all was a lot to handle, yet looking back, it did provide some amazing opportunities for family time and bonding. We started our "Chopped Dinners" and Google Meet Movie Nights. We began new traditions that allowed for connection in a time that seemed to crave for them. 

Moving forward to 2021: The year of Bloom

The word bloom instantly hit my heart this year. I love the image of a flower or plant rising from the dirt. That a simple seed can encase the beauty and complexity that exists in each flower petal. I know that this year had a lot of challenges and negativity, yet I also feel that it can be a seed. It contains the beautiful potential of the future. I believe it is possible to rise from the dirt of 2020 and BLOOM!

I want to:

Bloom in confidence 
I want to own my story in 2021. I have spent most of 2020 recording the words that encase my edu story. This year I want to own it and share it. This will take an extreme amount of confidence. I need a confidence in my words. I need confidence in knowing that many need to hear the message that only I can share. 

Bloom in my professional ability 
 My hope in 2021 is further help teachers. I am not sure what this means entirely, but I know that I love helping teachers. I hope and pray that I am giving more opportunities to bloom in this area. 

Bloom in strength 
 Strength can exist in many areas. 
Physical strength: I want fitness to be more central in my life once more. It provides a release and really is a form of self care for me. 
Mental strength: I want to push more pedagogy in 2021.I want to be more active in Twitter chats and Voxer. 
Emotional strength: I am such a people pleaser. I hate to let anyone down. I want to be strong in the criticism. I know there are those who will not like or agree with the things that I write or say. I have to be okay with that. 
Spiritual strength: I want to be connected to the word this year. I feel that this will be a lifeline for me in so many ways in the upcoming year. 

Bloom through the storm
I know that 2021 will have its trials. No year is complete without them. However, I hope that I can stand strong like a willow in the wind. I want to use the water from the storms to grow into a more beautiful version of myself. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

P,raising Every Little Step

Watching a baby walk for the first time, I realized how important each step is. Each step takes coordination, balance, and determination.  What I enjoy most in this process is seeing the pure joy when mobility is achieved, with parents and the infant rejoicing in a "Yay!"

    When did we lose that joy for each step? 

    It seems that as we grow, we only celebrate the milestone steps. We rejoice solely in the graduating step, the marriage step, the having a baby step, or even the 10,000th step. Now I am not saying that these are not worth celebrating. They most certainly are. What I mean is that these are not the only steps that are worth the celebration. Every one of those big steps takes many little steps to accomplish. Every bit of work or planning despite difficulty is an important and vital step along the way. Every step can bring a "Yay" moment. 

    In the last few months, the steps have been harder to make. Sometimes I think I can actually feel the weight of the world around me and it's pulling me down by the shoulders.  There are times when I feel like a toddler, losing my balance, falling on my bum, then get up only to stumble again and again.  Yet though that toddler may cry in the fall, usually they push themselves back to their feet, gain their balance, and take another step. 

    I encourage you today to: 

* Take a step out of your fear of this world and its craziness. 

    I have written about fear many times in this blog for fear and worry are some of my constant battles. At times, a small step forward is all you need for it means that you are one step farther away from what is chasing and tormenting you.

* Take a step in self-care. 

    The words "self-care" are everywhere right now... and they definitely should be. Many of us are trying to fill the cups of others when ours have been as dry as deserts for weeks. We need to make sure that we are giving ourselves the time we need to recharge and daily ready ourselves to support others.It doesn't have to a grand gesture like a massage or trip to the spa.  It could be a walk, a bubble bath or even just sitting alone in the quiet of the car. Try to make time for YOU. Put it on the calendar if you need to. (Thank you Dan Tricarico for that idea a few years ago!) 

* Take a step by helping another walk in this dark time.

    Even though I can't see many of their faces, I can clearly see that students are challenged in this time more than they ever have been before.  For some, it is the overload of distractions that makes true learning almost impossible. For others, it may be the home life that in any other year they would get a break from but now, it is on repeat daily. 

    In any other year, I would catch a student having a rough day at the door during my "Hello" song. We would then have a conversation before class even started. In those moments, I would let the student know that I was there for them and together we made a plan for the day. This connection was so important for my class and really set us all up for success. 

    In this virtual environment, that is more difficult.  The connection seems very strained due to the fear or reluctance to turn on the camera. Yet, I found that there are ways to reach out and aid my students. The first are my office hours and Flipgrid help hotline. These one on one conversations have impacted myself and my students is such a positive way for I can move past the screen and connect to the person. 

    The other way I connect to my students is through games. I love adding game elements into my face to face classroom and I have found that it is even more important in this environment. I know that as educators we feel the pressure of covering everything needed in a timely fashion, especially at this time. Yet students need the community and an environment to feel comfortable to engage fully in their learning process. If you are not sure where to start with this, check out Michael Matera (@mrmatera) or Stefanie Crawford (MrsCford_Tweets) on Twitter or Youtube for excellent ideas in this time. 

    *Take joy in the steps you are taking. 

    This is very important and I believe gets overlooked due to all the mayhem around us. There was a Martin Luther King Jr quote that I heard recently and it really fits what I am trying to say here. 

Every movement forward should be a movement celebrated. It may seem little but YOU MOVED!

I hope you take time to celebrate your steps today, this week, even this month. I hope you continue to reflect on the little steps that will lead you to the giant steps. I know that this is something I will be doing from now on.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Capturing the Un-Birthday Moments

     Most mornings are rather difficult for me, for I have the tricky task of awaking my three children from their slumbers and getting them out the door. I feel that remote schooling has made this even more difficult because "Homeschool is the worst, Mom!" (My daughter's exact words!) Yet there was one Friday in September where this was not a problem for my son. 

I went in and calmly said "Hunter, it is time to wake up" 

"Is it today???"


"It's my birthday??"

"Yeah! Happy birthday buddy!" 

His little body then began to bounce with pure happiness.  All day he would announce to everyone he met "It's my birthday today! I'm five!!" This happiness and joy was very contagious and you simply couldn't be around him that day without smiling. 

My teacher brain began to wonder... Where are these moments in our classrooms?

I am not necessarily referring to birthday moments for those are only linked to that day. I am referring more to the "unbirthday moments." I don't know about you but as I typed "unbirthday" my mind went to a particular animated scene with a hatter and hare...

"A very merry unbirthday to you!"

I have never really thought about that idea before. The idea of enhancing the other 364 days of the year with birthday happiness. 

No... I am not saying cake, ice cream, presents, and balloons all day everyday. My focus here is more on the internal joy that comes with a birthday. The feeling of being recognized and acknowledged. This remote learning format has put a screen between us and our students, blocking the connections that we are striving to make. The first couple weeks, I saw this technological wall as a burden, yet now I see that technology can actually be the catapult we need as educators to make those connections and make those "unbirthday" moments. One way to do this is to turn our focus more than ever before to instant feedback. 

After reading Being the Change by Sara Ahmed this summer (I highly recommend it for all educators! She does a great job giving teachers easy to use lessons and explains them well!), I became inspired by the activities that she uses to build culture and create a platform to spark discussion on social comprehension.  I decided that this virtual format was the perfect time to launch a couple of these with my students. 

First, we completed identity webs which were a clear visual of what makes up our identity. I decided to model this by doing a web together on the actor Jason Momoa. This video was the guide for our web. I then set the kids on their own and had them present their webs on Flipgrid. Flipgrid is such a great tool during this time for it allowed me to see my students' faces rather than the icon on the Google Meet screen. Flipgrid also allowed me to provide video feedback and connect to each student. I pushed myself to connect to one thing for every student. I know this may seem time-consuming, yet I felt that the time was well worth it for I was laying the cultural foundation for my classroom. The students did a fantastic job connecting to these webs! Here is a highlight of their work. 

We then took the next step in our identity journey by writing down our name stories. After first modeling with an excerpt from The House on Mango Street by Sandra CisnerosI explained to parents that their students would be asking many questions about their name.  In Meets following this interview/brainstorm, I found out that many students had never known the story behind their name or the origin of their name. In their faces I could see that spark. In their voices I could hear that excitement. After they wrote their stories, I again took the time to respond to each and every one with more than just "Good job" One reply stuck out to me. I commented with " This is an amazing story! I love your name!" 

Her response was "OMG thanks!"

This was more than grading to me. I was building "unbirthday" moments. No matter how different this year might feel, it can never take these away. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Kindness Will Shine Through

     We've all heard the saying "same old, same old"when referring to how things are going. This is definitely not what we use to describe these times. Instead we are hit with phrases like "the new normal" and "when things get back to normal. " As much as we hate it, we have to get use to the fact that things have changed. We have to find new ways to do what use to seem so simple. 

    The other day, I was at the post office mailing a face shield to a friend. I was standing in a socially distanced line, masked and simply waiting for my turn. I began to realize just how much our daily interactions are affected. Everyone was looking down or at their packages. People were very aware of their marked spot on the floor. I also noticed the worker, who seemed as stressed as ever. I cannot imagine the stress of that position especially in these times. 

    I was taught the saying "Kill em with kindness" growing up and have seen first hand what a simple smile or kind word can do to turn someone's bad day around. My heart was yearning to do something kind for this worker when my turn came yet my mind was battling due to the shear logistics of it all. How on Earth was I to help if she couldn't even see over half of my face. My smile couldn't lead the kind compliments. My face couldn't really light up when she called my name. Despite it all, I was determined to let my kindness shine through the situation....

And it did...

    TodayI had a discussion with my students about two poems that focus on identity. I have done this discussion for many years and I love it as a jumping off point for the year. I was very worried on how this staple discussion would occur in remote learning. It was fantastic! We made connections with the poems and with each other. We laughed at side stories that were at least closely related. We may have had screens between us, but it was the first time since school started that I felt that magic that I would feel in the classroom. 

Relationships with students are different. Smiles and laughs are hidden behind a mask or a screen but they are there. Students are there and they need us more than ever.

It might be harder in this time... 

We will have to work harder...

But kindness will shine through...



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Keeping the Momentum

    The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nostalgia as: “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” It hinges on the feeling that those events, movies, meals, songs, etc that send you back in time seem to give you.
    There is a movie that does this for me. The moment I watch it, I seem to be sent back to my six year old self. This particular movie had an opening scene in which it made you, the audience, feel as though you were flying over the mountain ranges, My best friend Marissa and I would take blankets and pretend that we were flying over those mountain ranges much like the witches in the film. 

    There was this painful pull in my gut when I thought about sharing this movie with my daughter. This was “our movie” Marissa and I, sadly, did not have many moments together for she died the year that we met. Yet this movie and walking to the donut shop from her house are two very strong memories of her that I have kept with me. I would watch this movie just to think of her. Would I be letting her go if I shared it? 

    It was really tearing me up… and then I realized that I had an opportunity to share the spirit and joy of my good friend. I decided to just go for it! The movie started and I could see the eyes of my six year old begin to light up. I picked up a blanket and began to run around the room and pretended to fly. She giggled and joined in.

    What would I be missing if I decided to just hold onto this movie and keep it to myself? Sharing this film benefitted not only my daughter, for it is now one of her favorites, but me as well. I created a moment with my daughter that will become as strong as those memories with Marissa.

    Through my years in education, there were my “tried and true” lessons that I would hold on to much like I did this film. I was unwilling to change it in any way. I didn’t want to take away any of the magic in what I had created. Yet, there came a time where I had to face the facts and accept that little changes had to be made to fit the kids I had at THAT moment. I had to give THOSE kids the best of that element. Sometimes I had to make a small change and other times it called for a bigger revamp, yet it created something special. Similar to the joyful giggles of my daughter, I made something special even more so… because I was willing to let go a little and make a change.
    This time in education can be incredibly scary because for many it is shaking us loose from our security blankets. 

We MUST evolve! 

We MUST grow. 

Yet we also need to try our best to be positive in the process. We will get through this and I think we will find that the product will be like throwing those security blankets in the wash. At the end of it all, they will be sparkly, clean and smell amazing.