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. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Harnessing the Spirit of Play

    Have you ever just sat back and watched children play? Whether it is simply siblings who spot a play area or friends meeting up, there seems to be an unspoken language in which settings are established and roles are assigned. No matter how many times my kids have been in the backyard pool or trampoline, each time has a new location or scenario. One day it could be lifeguards, the next it could be mermaids. 

It made me think... 

When do we lose that? 

When do we lose that ability to look at a situation and imagine all the possibilities? 

    Even when I assume a role and play along, there is an awkwardness that I have to push down. I don't think that my kids notice, but it's a struggle that I definitely feel. I also notice this beginning to fade with my 6th graders. Some are still in the stage of imaginative play while in others the magic has started to wash away. This makes it difficult for some to create storylines or invent solutions as problems arise.

What is it?

Is it the fear of judgement? 

Is it the pressure of the world squeezing out the love of play? 

    I don't exactly know the answers to any of these and I know that this post has more questions than it does answers. Yet I believe sometimes it is just beneficial for us as educators and really as humans to reflect and ask ourselves these questions. 

What I do know is that these moments are needed for balance in our world today. News and social media are filled with seriousness and quite frankly negativity. Watching and participating in the silliness of play is a refreshing relief. 

To those reading this post... 
 I challenge you to find a moment of silliness today. Whether it is playing a board game with friends or family or simply finding something (a TV show or a loved one) that makes you laugh. 
I challenge you to take a walk (It can be a path you have walked a 1,000 times) and notice something you haven't before. Question it all! Explore the "Whats" and "Whys" just like a child. If you have no one to fire these questions at, write them down! 
Try quieting your inner adult for just a moment and harness your inner child...harness your spirit to play!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tales from A Gamified Kitchen

Four ingredients that you must use in some way in your dish...

Forty-five minutes to cook your meal...
Three hungry yet critical judges....

     If you watch Food Network as much as I do, this may sound very familiar to you. I have loved the show Chopped since I was a kid. My mom and I used to guess who wouldn't make the cut, criticize the dishes and explain how we would approach each basket. I think for me, I loved the creativity and problem solving required. To win took more than just cooking ability. You had to use the basket the best way you could.

     This time of isolation has actually done some great things for our family dynamic. You will find us playing games daily, whether it's Wii bowling, Headbands, or the occasional Zombie Gotcha. Although I have learned that my children are quite competitive, I have also had the opportunity to see them grow and learn new skills. 

    While watching the Food Network app, I stumbled across a Chopped at Home Challenge that the chef judges were doing during quarantine. My daughter looked over at me and simply said "You should try that Mom" 

And our Chopped Night Challenges were born...

My husband, son and daughter rummaged through the kitchen while I sat in the living room with the baby. The giggles that I could hear were causing both excited and nervous feelings within me. When I was finally welcomed back, I was introduced to my ingredients:

* Pork Chops
*Spaghetti Noodles
* Mini Sweet Bell Peppers 
* Sour Cream

My husband then set my Google Home Mini for 45 minutes and I was off. I love the way that a challenge such as this makes my mind race in fantastic ways. For me, it brought back creative juices that have been resting for a while due to the pandemic. I realized how much I missed my daily chance to be creative as I design lessons and games with my sweet students. 

That Chopped Night, I finished about 10 minutes before the timer went off (which worried me because that usually does not end well for contestants on the show) and ended up with my version of Pork Milanese on a bed of spaghetti noodles in a sweet pepper marinara sauce. One judge (my husband) was quite critical of my plating inconsistencies while another judge loved it and devoured her entire plate. It was then decided that I did well enough that we could do this more often. You could definitely see that this activity had the ability to lighten up the normal dinner routine.

For the next Chopped Night Challenge, they wanted to make it harder. I was given the following ingredients: 

*Italian Pork Sausage
* Frozen Chicken Nuggets
* Strawberry Jam
* Animal Crackers
    This was definitely more of a challenge due to the amount of sweetness in this basket. I ended up with a sausage and nugget hash with a strawberry sriracha sauce and an animal cracker crumble. My husband was actually impressed of how I managed to balance the dish, considering that half of the basket seemed focused on dessert. There was only one judge that night that was not pleased. He is four and thought that his plate was going to be piled high with the frozen chicken nuggets that he selected. 

    This dish seemed to push my husband to find the ingredients that would stump me. It became a game on both sides of the stove. I loved seeing his gears turning as he thought of basket ingredients he could throw my way. 
    As you could imagine, the next basket was quite a doozy. It contained the following: 

*Broccoli Slaw
* Shredded Fiesta Blend Cheese
* Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Parfait
* Canned Spaghetti Rings

    This cook for me was a mixture of extreme excitement and sheer panic. There were moments where I was sure we were going to need the takeout food backup. I was going from "Plan A" through to what felt like "Plan Z!"
    Yet I made it through and actually composed a pretty tasty dish! I made chorizo and spaghetti ring wonton nachos, topped with broccoli slaw dressed with a spicy apple sauce. This was then served with a cheesy Mexican corn.  My husband kept shaking his head as he ate saying "I can't believe you did it!" 

This experience has definitely brought my family closer as well as highlighted parts of myself that I had missed since being pulled from my classroom. In that 45 minutes I was able to take risks and try cooking methods that I had only seen before on TV. This is something that I absolutely loved doing in my classroom and sadly, it is something that had faded away slightly due to remote learning. My hope is that I will be able to spark that risk taker in me when I start up again, even if I am in the same online format. 
My hope for you as you read this is that you:

* Make time to be creative and take risks: Challenge yourself in some way. Jump start those creative juices and let your mind soar. 

* Find the positives that are hiding in this time: We now have a tradition that I know will live past the days of this pandemic. These are memories my kids will pass on and I couldn't be happier to be a part of that. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Cherishing Life's Golden Moments

     It has been far too long since I sat here staring at the blank pages of this blog. I truly miss typing my thoughts here and hope that soon I can get back to the monthly consistency that I once had. I am sure I do not need to tell you this but...                                                          



     I went from enduring the hustle and bustle that nearing the end of the school year brings to having it all pulled out from underneath. And suddenly my body was to stay at home, yet my responsibilities were spread. I was having to be teacher, teacher mom and mom. I was a teacher 6th grade ELA to 92 and 1st grade to 1, while continuing my motherly duties to a 4 year old and 8 month old.

     Even though my school had been implementing a VLD model for some time and therefore had a small transition to remote learning, I was overwhelmed. I remember a moment when my assistant principal joined a Google Meet lesson where I was doing a "What is a Poem?" Ideaflood. He made a comment about the "monkey on my shoulder." I did not even realize that my son was climbing all over me as I was trying to teach this lesson.

     I was trying to be everything to whoever I could be. I held individual meetings with students to help them through issues, I sat with my daughter as she struggled through her work. I didn't realize it at the time but I was running my own energy pool dry.

     One day I finally broke down... and to be honest I thought I failed everyone by not being on top of things, by not having it all together. That night as I started to make dinner, I put on music to help my spirits. (I have been amazed at the power of music in this time. It has the ability to truly turn my day around.) The first song that began to play was "Keep Me in the Moment" by Jeremy Camp.

The chorus goes:
"Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
'Cause I don't wanna miss what you have for me"  

     As I was bopping along to the music and letting the words sink in, I saw the art made by my dear friend Heather Young. It colorfully displayed the word LESS which is my word this year and in it I promised myself to be less worried, less anxious and have less stress. These lyrics plus the reminder of my promise of less made a huge impact, not only on that night but on the days to follow.

Now I go through my days in moments....

When my daughter finally lands a free throw shot and bursts into a dance.
When my son realized he could make Mario jump and not die. 

Watching my baby grow before my eyes (chunky thighs and all)

Passing down my Grandma's cookie recipe and revealing the secrets that make them the best.

Reading to them the same Illustrated Classics my father read to me. 

     I'm not saying that the hard days are behind me... Yet now, when my spirits are low and that overwhelming feeling creeps up on me like a cheetah on its prey, you will find me humming the song that brings me back where I need to be. It brings me back to the moments. It reminds me of something my good friend Jamie Leach says often "Enjoy Today" Today is made of moments and although not all are worth saving, some are more precious than gold. Don't let them slip through your fingers!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

One Word 2020: Out of Courageous and Into Less

Reflecting on the Courageous 2019:
It is that time again. That moment when I reflect on my one word for 2019 and set my plan for my next one word. Looking back I am simply amazed at what the word Courageous has done for me personally and professionally. With every difficult decision, every scary situation, I not only had this word on replay, I also had this song (thanks to my #4OCFPLN friend Jessica Chandler.) It not only served as my guide but gave me comfort in what giant stood in front of me.

Here was where I wanted Courageous to take me in 2019:

I love these three so much!!
* I want a courageous faith in what I might not understand. I want to have a courageous trust in God for he will not leave or forsake me.
This was my very first step in being courageous and it hit me in the first days in January. On January 6th of 2019 I found out that our family of four was becoming a family of five. Writing this now, I could not imagine our family without our Bowen, yet staring at that plus had my insecurities and fears swarming. I spent many nights praying for guidance and strength to follow His path for me. There were also scary moments during the delivery of that precious boy where all I could do is cling to God's need for me to be courageously faithful. Through all the ups and down, God got us through.

* I want to be courageous in being me! I am not your standard anything and should not be afraid of that!
Throughout this year, I have become much more confident in myself and sure of my abilities. I have reached out to administration and asked to help with professional development. This yearning for more learning continues to drive me and now I am at a point where I am not afraid to share that passion with others. Helping other teachers, whether it is in my own building our while presenting at a conference, has become a true desire of mine and I cannot wait to see where that takes me moving forward.
I have also been more open in sharing my struggles, the times where things are not all fitting together. I have struggled in keeping up with this blog, my podcast, and my family. I have learned that it is okay to give myself time to adjust. In fact, it is needed.

The 4OCFPLN meets up at ISTE!!!
* Dreams can be scary, goals can be scary. I want to be courageous in pushing past that fear and reach for my dreams.
Dreams for writing... Goals for presenting (including ISTE 2019) All are very scary and very intimidating. I might reach and fail, yet if I let fear stop me, I will definitely fail!
It is amazing the giant steps I have taken in this area over a year. I have my book almost all together and I am beyond excited what might become of that adventure.
My trip to ISTE was AMAZING yet had moments that needed my word. This included flying for first time since I was 12 and also being 7 months pregnant while doing it. However, through every minute, I knew I was surrounded by my 4 O'clock family who took very good care of me. 

* I want to have a courageous heart for my students and my family. At times this may mean standing up for them and other times, it may simply mean to sit back and truly listen to their needs and wants.
My courageous heart beat the loudest this year for my daughter, my oldest child. I had to know when to show my "mama bear teeth" and when to hold back. I had to lean on the members of my PLN for strength and strategies. Most of all, I had to wrap that little girl up with love and the assurance that her different ways of seeing this world makes her even more amazing. She is my rainbow unicorn mermaid and I love her with my whole being.

On to 2020, the year of... Less
When I thought about a word for 2020, I kept circling back to the word Less.  It might seem like a strange word to some. "Why would you want this year to be less"
I don't want the year to be less, yet here is what I want less of this year:

* Less worry, fear, and anxiety.... More faith
I want to keep out all these monsters that tend to sneak up on me in life. My courageous faith will continue to be my secret weapon with this.

* Less self doubt... More confidence
I have ALWAYS been my worst enemy! I still need to work on being reflective and not critical.

* Less complaining.... More encouragement and appreciation
Negativity can be contagious at times. I need to be aware of its presence and spread the antidote whenever I can.

* Less frustration... More breathing strategies
My daughter and I have been working on "blowing candles" or tracing our hands when we feel we might "flip our lids" I want our entire family to continue these strategies.

* Less clutter... More organization
Organization and I do NOT get along. I function in this creative chaos state most of the time. However, I want to change this and bring a bit of organization to my household. I will have one organization day every month and use that day to focus on one to two areas of my house.

* Less rush rush.... More enjoying time with family
I feel that I am always in a hurry, running late, or worried about time. I want to try to prepare ahead of time to avoid the rushing worry and then treasure the slow still moments that life gives me.

I look forward to how the word less will bring so much more into my life in the upcoming year.  
I also wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your continued support!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Teacher Construction Season

I tend to do a lot of driving in the summertime. From ballet practice to splash pads, from the park to the zoo, I feel as though we are always on the road. The only issue with doing driving at this time of the year is all of the construction about. One night, as we were coming home from the drive in movie, I was venting to my husband about how frustrating it is to constantly have to reroute and give extra time for driving due to the road construction.

His reaction was brief, calm and really made me think:
"Honey, it's summer... it's construction season."

Of course, my mind immediately traveled to the education world (as it often does).

As teachers we constantly hear the phrase "You get summers off" Yet what if this time was looked at in a different way?

What if we looked at it as OUR "construction season"

Think about all teachers do in this time to get themselves, their lessons, and their classrooms ready for the driving ahead.
This is the time that we fix the roads of learning in our classroom. Some just need repainted while others need to be completely repaved. It is our chance to look closely at the road maps of our curriculum and determine which need a smoother highway or an extra lane on that interstate.
There are some years that I am content with simply getting out my paint crew and polishing up the road I had already worked so hard to lay down. There are other years that I gear up and prepare for I know that I need to have my entire crew and my equipment ready, for an overhaul is needed.

Earlier on in my teaching, there were times, when I knew there was serious road work ahead of me and yet, I put it off thinking the roads will hold up for one more year.
Because I was apprehensive of the detours this may cause in my learning highway. I was worried about the potholes or speed bumps that I might not see until it was too late. Yet later I would learn that although I cannot predict all of the conditions ahead of my students on their new highway, it was much smoother, much safer than allowing them to revisit that torn up pavement caused by a lesson/project/method that has faded in its effectiveness.

This year for me is a complete overhaul as I am redesigning most of my curriculum and even my classroom game. I am altering units that I have held tight to for 10 years! Tearing up these historic highways is a very scary thing for me! Yet when I doubt my choice, I think of my drivers, my students and all they can get out of that new road.

So whether your construction crews are looking at a light summer load or a complete overhaul, please do not allow the possible detours to make lose sight of the goal....
To give your students the greatest drive imaginable on that road to learning and discovery.