Thursday, December 4, 2014

A season of hope

I sit here on a quiet Sunday evening.  Christmas music quietly dancing down the hallway, and I think.  The quiet soothes my soul.


Here on the first week of Advent, God has given us HOPE to reflect on during the darkest season of the year.  I don't think it's by accident.  I think it's by design -- a week to reflect on the hope that He provides in my life.


It amazes me.  The perfect plan.




I enjoy daily moments with God - devotionals trying to prepare my heart and soul for the gift He is about to bestow upon the world.  The magnitude of this gift is beyond my comprehension, yet He loves me enough to remind me again.  Being human, I need reminding.




To remind me that despite my failings, He loves me.




To remind me that I can't change the fact that He loves me.




To remind me that the most important gifts come through Him.




It's pretty awesome if you ask me.  I love how He reaches in to my heart and strips it down to the very basics.  It's effective.  He is a God of love, grace, and generosity.  He forgives.  He never promised easy, but He did promise company.  He walks with me when times are rough.




This is the time of year when I read again the story Two from Galilee by Marjorie Holmes.  This simple piece of historical fiction helped me put advent in perspective.  It helps me to walk in the shoes of a 14-year-old girl who the world struggles to believe. 




It whispers to my soul - the doubts she faced, the doubts of others, the choice of faith.  It opens my eyes to new possibilities.  It educates me on the culture of the time in which Jesus was conceived.  It allows me to read the scripture with greater awareness and insight.  Through her words I can experience the hope that Mary felt when few in the world understood.




How often do we feel that no one understand?  That our situation is hopeless?  That the world is against us?  A little perspective allows us to see that with God nothing is hopeless.  The very existence of His son is hope.  He does amazing things.  Let Him.


It's the season of Advent.  The season of hope.  It's knowing you're not alone.  You are loved.







Monday, November 24, 2014

Gratitude

I remember a Facebook program a few years ago that ranked the top ten words you used in your posts.  Once it caught on, I remember scanning list after list and thinking about how the words matched with the friends I knew in life and their words on-line.


I don't remember my list.  I just remember looking at it and wondering if that was REALLY how I wanted the world to see me.  Are those the words that I wanted people to remember about me? They weren't bad -- I'd remember that -- they just weren't intentional.


It was a gentle reminder to be intentional in how you treat others.


November is a month in which we hear the word gratitude a lot.  It's important to shift the focus from ourselves - our dreams, wants, and desires, and to focus on what is real and what is a gift in our life.  For the last few years I posted daily what I was thankful for.  It allowed me to think about the small details -- from my garbage disposal to my family to my personal walk with God.  It gave me a new perspective on what I wanted.


I didn't write it publically this year.  Naysayers got to me - I admit it.  There were eye-rolling at the thankful posts, comments about how no one wants to hear what you're grateful for, the jokes poking fun.  I'm not sure why I let it affect me so -- but my list became personal and private this year.


Because at the end of the day, I do want to keep my attitude on others and show them that I'm grateful that they walk with me - even when our walks may be at a difference cadence. 


I think that has been my struggle this fall.  The volume of others has affected my voice.  I'm working on that. 


Therefore --


1.  I'm grateful for God.  For His son who loves me despite the fact that I make mistakes.  For the amazing miracles He performs.  For the times when He says yes and times when He says no.  I'm grateful that he gives me the opportunity to walk with others, shine at times, and allow others to shine.  He humbles me.


2.  I'm grateful for my family.  I love my husband and the four children we created.  It's not always easy; it's not always fun; however, it is a choice.  It is a choice to love each other despite our flaws and celebrate the fact that we were given this opportunity called life.  I would do anything for any of them.  They amaze me and bless me daily.  I'm grateful for their activities and lives.


3.  I'm grateful for my parents.  They sacrificed so much for me to help me to become the person I am today.  I can still hear my father showing me that how you treat others is important.  It's important to take the emotion out of situations and deal with them calmly.  After all, people are important.  My mom taught me compassion, determination, and patience.  Her gift was to help me see things through other's eyes.


4.  I'm grateful for my in-laws.  They raised my husband to be the man he is today.  Without them, my family wouldn't exist.  They give to my family over and over.  I appreciate this beyond words. 


5.  I'm grateful for my brother and his family.  My brother and sister-in-law and my two nephews who I don't get to see often enough.  My brother is so important to me - and I couldn't be prouder of the family he has created as well. 


6.  I'm grateful for my sister who lives in Vietnam with her husband and four beautiful children.  I pray for them daily, and I'm so excited to see them through social media.  This is a gift that has forged relationships and connections that give us glimpses through each others' eyes.  I love her story.  It's a beautiful one. 


7.  I'm grateful for my biological father and his wife.  Our story has not always been an easy one, but it's a part of us.  I'm grateful for the lessons learned. 


8.  I'm grateful for my friends -- for those who have walked with me for decades and those who were a season in my life.  May God hold you all in His hands.  I do believe our paths crossed for a reason, and I will love you all forever.


9.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to do what I love.  I love teaching.  It is my passion.  It is also hard work, frustration, and overwhelming at times.  Perspective becomes important.  I learn from my students every single day.  Fortunately, they learn from me as well.  I love every single one of them.  I care about them forever . . .


10.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with amazing people.  They encourage, inspire, and challenge me to be more. 


Finally, I'm grateful for the gift of possibilities . . . for my PLN who has opened my eyes, reaffirmed, and encouraged me in so many ways.  I've missed you this fall. 


That silly program so many years ago, helped me to see what words I want to focus on in my life.  Gratitude is at the top of my list, for it reminds me to look beyond myself and focus on serving others.  My list forced me to be intentional in how I want others to see me and affected my actions as such.


I would close with my class, "What do you want your words to be?" 











Thursday, October 23, 2014

Grace

Timely.


A little while ago my phone rang.  It was my mom with news that I've been dreading since last March. 


My cousin has lost her 15 year battle with breast cancer.


She has always been my hero.  I used to love visiting her family -- she was three years older -- the perfect age for me to put her on a pedestal.  She never minded.  I can still hear her soft voice tinged with a Southern accent patiently talking, listening, accepting.


In my eyes she was always so good.


I'm pretty sure if you look up the word grace in a heavenly Bible, her picture would be there.  See, I always felt like I was a mess.  Scattered, crazy, all over the place - messy.  However Susan . . . oh gosh . . . she was always good.


I'm sure that wasn't the complete reality.  I know she had struggles -- she was human.


But she chose to see the good.


Yes -- chose it often.


I'm eternally grateful to learn this skill from her.  Even in pain, she would choose to see the good.  Despite the pain, she would talk about love.  Instead of focusing on the disappointments, she saw beauty.


Through her eyes, she changed me.


I know this is a little rambling . . . a little painful . . . the world just feels a little darker.


Though I know she's dancing with Jesus as I type.  I am so happy for her as my human heart weeps.


So tomorrow morning I'm going to wake up and see the beautiful -- the sunrise, the smile on a child's face, the music flowing  . . . for her honor, I'm going to choose the positive.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Peace

As I sit here on a quiet morning, rain gently pattering against my window, spending some precious time alone with my thoughts and God, I can feel the quiet whisper of peace soothing my soul.

There are things in life that have me troubled now.  I believe the evil one does his best to turn up the volume on that chatter, to distract, to discombobulate, to disconcert.  He screams questions in my ear, echoes the dark doubts of my heart, demands my attention.

Therein likes the problem. I have a tantruming toddler doing his best to distract me from peace.

So where does my attention go?  The toddler who delights in my fears, encourages my doubts, engages in distraction or to the one who tells me not to worry?

It's amazing how fast I can be humbled by God.

Matthew 6: 25-34


"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?  


"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  \


So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


Therefore today I'm going to choose peace.  Allow the whispers to calm my worries and give them to the person who can do something about them.  Spend time listening to Him.  Turn down the volume on the constant chatter.

Today I will seek Him and the peace He provides.  I will intentionally seek His will above my own.  Today I will breathe easy and trust.


Thank you to Holly (@muellerholly) for her leadership and encouragement in the writing the weekly spiritual blog posts around a common theme.  Check out her master link at:  http://www.hollymueller.blogspot.com/  Feel free to join us.





Monday, October 13, 2014

The Connected Educator #compelledtribe

I began teaching in 1993.  In many ways that feels like a lifetime ago.  Somewhere along the line I went from the youngest teacher on staff to one of the oldest.  I think it happened with the decade that I spent at home raising my own four children.  I remember the steps back to being a part of the educational work force after my hiatus.  I was excited to teach again, nervous, but excited.


You see I had four children, a husband who travelled, and knew few in my immediate community.  My new job was in the school furthest from my home in my county, so I was a 30 minute drive minimum away from home.  I felt like an island - isolated and alone. 


I remember during the interview the principal asked me how I was going to make it work.  It was the question I dreaded most because I wasn't sure myself.  I know I came back with the comment that I loved teaching; it was my calling; I would work to make it work. 


That first year, I did just that.  I made it work.  I loved the kids, followed the scope and sequence, wrote a lot of curriculum, and graded a lot of essays.  My brain remembered the rhythm, the pacing, the love, and the kids responded.  I had a partner in crime, and the strong support of other ELA teachers.  The waters around my island receded.


This is what I've learned -- it's the connection piece that makes it work. 


Our assistant principal (@drizzinkwine) showed me how to take this beyond our district through how he used Twitter.  He kept telling me it was the most powerful tool in social media today.


I thought he was crazy.  He knows this.  I've had to eat my words over and over.


He mentioned a fellow co-worker who used Twitter well (@amsd2dth), encouraged me to give it a try, so I sat down and created an account.  I was immediately frustrated with not knowing how to access the information I wanted, so I assumed it wasn't there.  Therefore I gave it a half-hearted attempt and kept moving on with business as usual.  My account sat neglected.


Though I continued to listen.  That summer Dave Burgess was coming to speak to our staff regarding his book, Teach Like a Pirate.  I looked up an advanced copy of the title so I could see what it was all about.  Around that time my assistant principal popped in to see how things were going.  I swear he opened my eyes more in five minutes than the previous year.  Learning the simple tool of how to see hashtags and notifications - simple, I know, but the simple thing is I DIDN'T know - opened my skill set.  He also dropped a casual challenge - try a chat this summer.  I'm not sure if he remembers it, but he did it.  It changed me professionally.


On a Monday night early that summer, I decided to try the #tlap chat for the first time.  I think I had 9 followers, and I was following maybe 20.  I considered myself a creative teacher; however, that chat opened my eyes to so many possibilities.  I had my notepad down by my computer scribbling out ideas as fast as I could think of them.  I was inspired by the community.  A fellow educator mentioned doing this with an ELA focus (thank you @bhomel1).  I'm was inspired to say - YES! I want to help with this.  I had NO CLUE what I was doing, but I couldn't help it.  Fortunately @joykirr and @krinermom also wanted in.  The four of us led Twitter chats all summer -- #ELAtlap which has evolved into #ELAchat.


That one chat had me.  I have grown more as an educator in the past year and a half then I did in the first ten years combined.  Twitter has given me new perspectives, opened the door to different thoughts, and challenged me to be more for my students.  It provides a wealth of information, encouragement, and inspiration.  I've connected with teachers, authors, and have created a strong PLN that challenges me to stretch in different ways.


So throughout this rambling reflection (hence the title of my blog), I want to send encouragement to educators.  Step out of your comfort zone to become a connected educator.  Ask questions, jump in, be willing to try, be open to learning.  You will find validation, people you agree with, people you disagree with, and people who push you.  All of this will change you in small ways that will impact you as a professional - in positive ways. 


I'll issue you the challenge to pick a chat and try it for a month -- be consistent, engaged, and involved for that month and reassess how you feel at the end.  I have a feeling you'll be hooked, too!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giving kids a voice.

Amid the fun of Spirit Week, I've had student presenting "Trash to Treasure" narrative essays this week.  I believe sharing these stories are one of the most important things I've done this year. 


I've laughed. I've cried. I felt like we've moved mountains as a class.


It starts with having students write a narrative essay about an object they hold dear.  It's the one thing that brings them happiness, comfort, the physical representation of memories. Students choose all types of objects, but the heart of the assignment remains the same - that everyone has a story to tell.


It changes the atmosphere in a room when you allow this to happen.


Some of the stories are funny.  One wrote about how he treasured his pants and gave insightful reasons behind them.  Interwoven in his story was how the microwave was invented because of a chocolate bar in a pair of pants.  He insists it's true.  I haven't looked yet; however, the story was compelling.  Another demonstrated riding on a clown bike as she described how she rescued it from the garage where it had been hiding for many years.  She and her sister have many memories about those bike.


Others are tasty.  Stories of recipes such as cookies or cheesecake can actually cause your mouth to water.  Beautiful tales are shared of family gatherings or traditions that take place in the kitchen. 


There are many who discuss difficult topics.  Death of family members is particularly difficult.  Holding the healing stone of a child's departed grandparent will tug at your heart.  Medals, hats, even memories that echo throughout houses and communities were all shared. 


All of this serves to weave a sense of community throughout the room.


"We've been friends for years, I never knew why this was so important to you."


"Her story was so beautiful.  I never knew . . . "


Stories humanize.  They give an opportunity to share insight, vulnerability, and build trust. 


There has been a shift in my classroom.  I notice people talking who don't always.  I see smiles that aren't always there.  I see concern for others.


This is a valuable lesson for our students.  As teachers we need to carefully plan the way.


First -- Share your story with the class.  Not only can students relate to you, but they have the opportunity to benefit from a mentor text.  It also gives you an opportunity to see what struggles they will face.


Second -- Allow for time for practice.  Model what you expect of students. 


Third -- When they get to the podium, leave them a note.  Tell them that their words are important.  This may seem silly, but it puts the child at ease.  Remind them to read it.  This gives them a chance to get comfortable in front of the class. 


Fourth -- Have the class share the positive.  I model this first with the students.  We listen to the presentation, and I point out things the child did well through his presentation and writing.  I mention specific words that drew me in, details that were exceptional.  I have each student write a post-it note to the speaker telling him of the things that he did right.  After a few speeches, I have them distribute them and shower the speaker in compliments.


This part is important.  We need to train our students to look for the positive and listen to the good.  For some, these pieces of paper don't mean a lot, but for others, they become treasure within themselves.  I watch kids carefully stack them and keep them in their notebook.


The goals for speaking are things that I will address privately.  I allow kids to practice during my plan - to see what it feels like in front of the room.  If they stumble, I tell them it's okay.  We brainstorm the WORST thing that can happen and dismiss it as impossible.  After all, if it really came true, our presentation would be the least of our worries. :)


Stories are important.  Kids need to find their voice to share their stories.  It can change life for them.


I'll close with one of my amazing stories . . .


I have a student who struggles with social situations.  He is disturbed by noise, and doesn't like sharing in front of the class; however, he also has a desire to do well and complete tasks that are asked of him.  Getting up in front of the classroom with his treasure, he told me that he really didn't want to do this.  I told him that it was okay.  He didn't have to want to, but that I had confidence that he could do it.  The class then joined in with comments of encouragement as well as an appreciation of having him as a member of the class.


So he started speaking.  As he went on, his excitement for his treasure grew.  He had the opportunity to share a special love of his -- a passion for bats.  I knew that he had carefully selected details to put into his paper that painted bats in a positive light for he couldn't bear for anyone to think badly of them.  When he reached the end of his paper, he started to ad-lib.  His natural humor emerged and he kept the class engaged for several minutes longer than the initial assignment.


I was able to sit at watch him shine.  At the end of the day, kids were still talking to him about it.  The last few days he's had an additional pep in his step and smile on his face.


He still tells me he didn't like presenting.  However, what he learned . . . oh what he learned . . . and the gift he shared . . . well, that will live on for a long time.





Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Communion #spiritualjourney

Thank you Holly (@muellerholly) for a thought-provoking topic.  I look forward to multiple perspectives every week as we walk together.




"Communion is a symbol."




We started our church service this week with these wise words.  Communion is a symbol of God's ultimate gift to us.  The gift of a re-do, reset, wiped clean scorecard.  I know I need it.  I don't deserve it, but I need it.




Isn't that what grace is?  Extending forgiveness when it's not deserved?  Forgiveness for the sins I know about, and forgiveness for the sins I'm unaware of.  Accepting that my human body will never be enough by itself, yet with God it is perfection.




Honestly it's one of my favorite time of the week.  I don't often complete it without a tear trembling, throat choking, humble acceptance of what is being offered.  It is a moment I need - a reminder of what God was willing to do for me. 




It just puts things in perspective. 




It resets my focus - what is important? pressing? overwhelming?  It resets my attitude - choosing love and forgiveness.  It resets my destination - for what he wants for me is so much better than I could ever imagine. 


Sometimes I wonder at my inability to keep a focus on what God wants instead of my own needs.  Like a child, I forget His perfect plan and allow myself to become mired in earthly concerns.  Therefore I'm grateful for this weekly reminder.  I'm grateful for the constant conversation. 




When it's dark - he is with me.  He reminds me of this weekly.  He brings the light to my heart.  As a human, I don't think I'm supposed to understand the dark.  He calls me to the light -- his love. 




A perfect love.




So I need that weekly wash, a gentle nudge, a reminder of Him. 







Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forgiveness #spiritualjourney

Some days I wonder how to do it.


Forgive.


Many things are easy -- small things . . . easily dismissed with a smile and a kind word.


Others are much harder.


Much, much harder.


Usually it involves my children -- one in particular, my child --  mean words, hurled insults, taunting laugher, group gang mentality.  Quite honestly, it's why I became a middle school teacher.  I want to change this behavior -- create situations where kids see the humanness behind the fa├žade they all wear.


Then I remind myself that we are human.  We make mistakes. 


I forgive; I feel better.


Then I fail again.  I see the perpetrators, unrepentant; I allow stirrings in my soul to feel negative. 


You see forgiveness is not an easy step.


Alone I will fail.  Alone I would harbor negative feelings. I would challenge the injustice of the situation.


I thank God daily that I'm not alone.  I'm grateful that he shares perspective with me.  I'm grateful that he doesn't give up on me. 


That alone brings me back to my knees to ask for His forgiveness.  After all He forgave me for so much more.  He forgives me when I fail.  He forgives me when I fumble.  He forgives me when I am foul. 


He extends grace over and over and over. 


That is a lesson worth learning.  I marvel at the sadness He must have felt when we turned our backs on him and His son.  If He can forgive that, then who am I to attempt anything less?

Finding inspiration #compelledtribe

I always love the interview question, "Where do you find your materials for a quality class?"

I'm sure the appropriate answer is to look at state standards, the scope and sequence, the text . . . but it's not my answer.  My answer is that inspiration can be found anywhere.  If I think it will enhance the curriculum, engage students, or breathe life into the learner, I use it.

I'm fortunate to work with like minded individuals.  As an 8th grade ELA team, we meet often to discuss our plans.  We work to find lessons that bring to life the lessons we teach.  Yes, we make sure the standards and sequence of events are covered in a thorough manner as outlined and expected in our district; however, we make the choice to approach it in a creative manner.

Because inspiration can strike at any moment.

Guess what . . . it works!

Three years ago we were looking at our newly adopted textbooks.  We met several times during the summer before school to divide tasks, and develop interesting lessons.  I was looking at a series of short stories throughout the book, with the goal of finding two with a similar theme to give our students an opportunity to discover theme across texts.

I found two that did this - they weren't put together in a traditional format.  They weren't even in the same section of the book.  However, the magic began when I put the titles in front of the team.

The stories "Clean Sweep" by Joan Bauer and "The Treasure of Lemon Brown" by Walter Dean Myers both had a similar theme of finding treasure in what others may consider not important.  We all have things we treasure beyond the monetary value of the item.  Usually they are attached to our memories, which creates the perfect opportunity to write a personal narrative about the item.

Suddenly the pairing got more meat.  However, it wasn't time to stop yet.  We continued to think about the theme that we call "Trash to Treasure."  Popular television shows were mentioned -- American Pickers, Storage Wars, Antique Roadshow were a few.  Non-fiction articles about Mike Wolfe (he has a house down the street -- about 15 minutes from our school) were found as he was expanding his retail location to Nashville.

Inspiration can be found anywhere.

We created a clip of the three TV shows to introduce the theme to our students.  It's only 7 minutes long, but it excites the kids to the point where they can hardly wait to share their favorite episodes. It opens up great discussions about choices that directors need to make in order to have a show work and what really goes on behind the scenes.  Next we look at the informational text pieces about Mike Wolfe and practice annotating the article.  Last year Mr. Wolfe was actually in town while we were doing this unit.  The English teachers took a Saturday field trip to see him in action in Leiper's Fork - several students did as well.  After hearing about our project, he donated his book for kids to our department, signed of course.

Next we look at the short stories to determine theme.  In "Clean Sweep" we discovered the theme of finding treasure amid the trash in attics.  Students wrote paragraphs describing how the author developed this theme citing evidence from the article.  (We used Google Classroom this year - this is an amazing tool for writing.)  Students then came in to find us dressed as Lemon Brown, a homeless man who was down on his luck in Harlem.  Harmonica music and the blues sang from our speakers as he shared his story and his treasure.  Again, the discussion of what makes something important was discussed.  We reinforced the ideas that when you learn why someone treasures something, it makes you view them differently.  You begin to see beyond the facade and delve into the character of a person.  Most of us aren't all that different beyond the facade.

Hearing the stories of others is important.

This leads us to the personal narrative.  Each teacher writes one first and shares it with the class. Then she challenges her students to do the same.  We have three basic questions our students need to answer -- what does the item look like (sensory details), what is the story behind the item, and why do you treasure it?  The requirement is a minimum of 500 words.  (This is rarely a problem.)

Kids have shared stories about baseball cards, broken iPods, cheesecake recipes, long boards, and instruments.  We've laughed as memories were shared, and as a group we've cried together.  Each child presents their treasure to the class while students write positive comments on post-it notes. Those notes are then shared with the speakers a the end of class (we shower them with notes).  It's fun to see them carefully store their notes and take them home.  Often those slips of paper become a treasure.

It's fun to see the shift in value in the class.  This assignment gives everyone a voice.  They are heard, and it is powerful.

So don't dismiss inspiration -- it can strike at any moment . . . in the closet, at a garage sale, in a flea-market, even in front of the TV.

What inspires your lessons?  Please share --

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Truth

Thank you for the inspiration for today's #spiritualjourney blog from Holly Mueller (@MuellerHolly).  I also appreciate the others who are willing to share their journey through a blogging platform.  Your words both influence and inspire.


This week's topic is truth.


I've been thinking about it for a week now.  In fact, the blog was actually due on Thursday, but I was still unclear as to what to say.  Every time I felt a nudge toward my blog, I'd sit.


And the words wouldn't come.


Why?


So I'd pray.  What is it God?  What do I need to learn here?


Obviously I need to learn a lot.  However, I wasn't hearing the answer. 


As I walked into church this morning, I was looking forward to our sermon.  We have a lead pastor who has a way with words.  He brings drama, excitement, and strong biblical teachings every week in a way that resonates in my heart.  My kids and I have the best discussions afterwards, and it keeps us coming back for more.


Today was no exception.  He was preaching on the book of Esther.  As I heard the story again, a strange peace settled over me.  I know what I want to write about.


Truth.


You see, as humans we have many different perceptions of truth.  The themes that we read in stories, the lessons we take away from books, fiction are author's perspectives of truth.  Stories we hear on the news, speeches, even acts of war all provide evidence that announces an air of superiority over another side.  As a human we are bombarded with compelling arguments on this topic every single day.  No one wants to be wrong.  Oftentimes the two sides on any argument are too busy pointing fingers than to really listen.


However, the whisper I heard today came through Esther.  She was worried about approaching her husband with a request.  It was legitimate.  As king he had the right to kill her for doing this.  Therefore her plan was to pray - to listen for God's truth. 


And God had prepared the way.  He used her to offer the world a small glimpse of His provision. Her faithfulness was rewarded greatly. 


That is what I need.  As a human, I don't profess to have all of the answers.  I don't always know what's right.  What I do know that that if I ask, He will give me the answer. My truth comes from Him.  He understands far more than I do, and I have to trust in that.  Completely and even when it's hard.  He uses it.


Which is why I start the day with the prayer, "Lord, set aside my needs today so I can be what You need."  He is my truth.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Google Classroom -- a glimpse into the learning of tomorrow, today.

As a part of the #compelledtribe, our challenge was to blog about how we were using technology in a new way this year.  I thought about all of the things I do -- from using cameras to capture notes, search engines for enrichment, QR codes, augmented reality, to daily programs such as Twitter or KidBlog.  It has been my goal the last four years to embrace technology for educational purposes in the classroom.  I am blessed to have colleagues who push me to try new programs, as well as encourage me to take risks.  However, the piece that has excited me most this year began with a summer surprise -- 

The start of the school year always brings some technical shockers with it, and this year was no different.  In the past our school has always provided a U: drive for all students.

(Side note -- I remember when I started four years ago and and no idea what a U: drive was.  It's simply a personalized drive for each student in our county.  Students could save papers across years and schools by accessing their drive in any school in our district.)

I've always relied on the U: drive.  Students would be able to write papers from any computer in the district and pick up where they landed in the next class.  We could pull up papers from years past to revise, revisit, and reflect.  It had a lot of value.

I knew they were wiping all student U: drives clean this summer.  As you can imagine the storage for 20,000+ students was enormous.  Last year students saved beloved work to flash drives and e-mailed documents home for saving.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that U: drives were eliminated.

Gone.

No more.

Each student would have internal district access to Google Docs instead.  Through student G-mail accounts, they would be able to communicate and share with anyone within our district.

Now, I've dabbled in Google docs, shared platforms, Google forms (thank goodness for Flubaroo), and the school G-mail accounts.  I've worked with students across these programs, but most of my students were determined to stubbornly cling to personal e-mail.  Despite showing the benefits of Google docs (automatically saves, works across platforms, allows you to conference directly), at the end of the year someone still hadn't activated their account.  I think it's time to challenge them for a little technological growth, don't you?

My dabbling is about to become more serious.

Fortunately I participated in a four hour PD this summer where I learned how one high school teacher runs a paperless classroom via Google docs.  He had a system of folders that required specific names, specific locations, etc.  It worked, but it involved a lot of detail.  I was excited by the possibilities.

I was really excited when I thought about how this could show the digital path of a paper.

However, it was a lot to remember.  He was willing to share, but you know what it's like during the first month of school -- awake at 4:30, home at 8:30, grading, new names, preparing, personal family time.  My team sat down today to revisit his thoughts so we could get our students on board next week.

And in walked a science teacher -- @bsbailey -- someone who is willing to always challenge himself and his students to take risks with technology.  (Seriously, you should follow him on Twitter -- he is amazing.)  Above that, he's always willing to help out a fellow teacher or present new solutions.

Today's was amazing -- Google classroom.  Google it.  I had my classes set up in about five minutes.  Each one will get a unique code that allows them to sort into the correct class.  All you need to do is share the code.  Then each student will have access to all of his classes in the same space.

THIS is the key to the magic.  Documents are automatically shared with teachers, they can have writing groups to peer edit with color coded responses, you can attach mentor texts, videos, slide shows, pretty much anything you need to give your students the tools to be successful.  It keeps a trail on when each paper was submitted, how it was revised, suggestions that peers made, the teacher's comments/grade, and allows the student to resubmit after additional editing.

As a teacher of writing, I can only imagine how this will help my students when reflecting on the process.  I'm excited for our first submission next week.  I'm excited they will be able to work across limits like walls and cables.  I'm excited to take learning to the next level by creating a digital path to demonstrate learning.  I'm excited to literally walk the path with them through reflection.

To put it simply, I'm excited. (Can you tell?)

Yep, some days you'll get a glimpse into the future.  Today I felt it.   It feels great.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

All for the Glory of God

Four years ago I remember struggling with what I wanted to do when I grew up -- again.  You see, I spent the prior decade being a stay at home mom to four children.  I wasn't sure where God wanted me to plant roots.

As a young adult, I'd had my life figured out.  I was going to teach for ten years, begin a doctorate program, earn my Ph.D. and teach future middle school educators at my alma mater.   I was going to write books and fit a family in to the corners of my life.  I had my future planned.

Which is probably why I fell on my face.  When the twins were two, I was caught in the quandary of wearing too many labels -- Super Teacher, Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Friend, Super flop.  One cannot survive on three hours of sleep a night for months upon end.  Eventually even the weekends were not long enough to keep up with what I was doing to myself.

God was telling me to slow down.

He was telling me to let go of my reigns and pass them back to him.

He was teaching me to listen, and He would provide.

Did I mention that I'm a little stubborn?  I was devastated when I stopped teaching.  We moved across the country for my husband's job, and I went from knowing my role, being respected by many, having a reputation for extracting excellent to just another neighbor, just another mom, just another member of the masses.

Now, I'm glad that it happened.

During that decade, I had a shift in focus.  It became so much less about me and so much more what God intended.  I learned to see the beauty in life, celebrate relationships, focus on my own children.  I had many experiences on the other side of the school relationship.  I got involved in the PTA, I sat through IEPs, I felt the unique pain that parents feel during a student conference that doesn't go well.  I learned that the most important thing I could do was focus on the life that God intended for me.

You see, he was prepping me to return to what I loved doing.  He just needed me to do it with Him at the center instead of me.  It was a long process.  I was concerned that I'd return to my workaholic ways.  I was concerned that I had been out of the classroom too long.  I was concerned that I wouldn't be seen as strong as I was before.

Thankfully he didn't give up on me.  He nudged me.  Again. Again.  Occasionally he had to give me a few hurdles to lead me in the right way.  Like a bumbling sheep I followed.  I prayed.  I put Him at the center.

And I'm grateful to call myself a teacher again.  This time my focus is a little different.  I've always cared about kids and cared about their future, but this time I was a servant of His giving them what He needs me to give. 

Guess what?  I am enough. 

Though it's not because of me.

What did I learn?  To listen.  To trust.  To love.  To be faithful.

All for the glory of God.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Be Nice.

Our district has rolled out a county-wide campaign this year.  The slogan is simple.

Be Nice.

The words are important.  Let's take a moment to reflect on what they mean.  Nice is a word that we often use, but do we take the time to reflect on what it looks like on a daily basis?  Are they just words we mutter, or do we intentionally think about the meaning and act upon them? Sometimes I think the world could use a healthy does of perspective. It would solve a lot of issues that we face personally, professionally, as a community, as a nation, and as a world if we simply act upon this simple concept. Be nice.

So how does "be nice" look?  What are we asking to have our students do?

I think it begins with noticing others.  A focus on what others need is essential.  For example, I have a student who is struggling to recover from a concussion right now.  He looked tired, so I asked him how he was feeling.  He smiled and said his head was hurting some, that reading and bright lights really were affecting him.  It was easy to turn off the overhead lights to provide him some relief.  That small act took me 30 seconds though I hope it's acts like this that will live a lifetime in his head.  Perhaps it seeing someone struggle in the hallway.  Instead of walking by, can I help with a locker, a dropped book, a lonely face?  It can be as simple as a smile, a compliment, an invitation.  Maybe I notice a new haircut, start a discussion about graphic on a t-shirt, or follow up with a conversation. As a teacher, I take many opportunities to look at my class.  Internally, I ask the following questions:  What do I see happening?  Is someone isolated?  Is someone taking a group off task?  What is another group doing well?  How can I give a shout out for the ideas of another?  Where can I support my students?  What changes do I see?

After you've taken note of the needs of others, ask yourself if you can discern the possible motivations behind certain actions.  For example, is the isolated child there by choice, or perhaps she is new to the district.  How can I provide opportunities for her to develop friendships with others?  Are there others in the class with similar interests? Until then, I make sure I take a moment to seek her out and ask how her day is going.  Perhaps I stop by the table at lunch and say hello.  To do this it's important to intentionally listen.  If a child is acting out, experiment with ways to use his strengths to create a positive relationship.  Try different methods to get to know him in a positive way and use that to hook him into class activities.  Continue to try different methods to open his ideas to different possibilities and different outcomes.  Additionally, choose to complement those (students and adults) who are doing well with specific praise.  In the hallway, grab a co-worker to tell her what your student is doing well in front of the child.  Let each child hear the singing of his praises.   E-mail or call home with good news.  Smile.  Ask how others are doing.  Yes, this takes moments away from what I need to accomplish, but it impacts the future in ways that my needs alone never could. 

An important aspect of being nice is that it requires grace.  I extend grace often in life as I hope I will be given the same opportunity when I make a mistake.  When students make bad choices, I do my best to bite my tongue.  Occasionally I step away to let the heat of the situation calm down,  I tell them that I will miss them.  (I actually do - each child provides a voice that is valuable in the room.)  I remind them that there is a new opportunity tomorrow to make different choices.  We discuss ways to grow to the type of person they want others to see them as and how to become that person.  The next day I greet them at the door with a smile.  People make mistakes; the important part is how we learn and grow from them.

Finally, being nice requires making the choice to do so.  To notice the needs of others, to develop  relationships,  and to offer grace are all intentional choices.  They are choices designed to help me be what my students need to move forward in becoming the person they want to become.  They are choices that tell kids that they matter in the world.  They are choices that I hope will live long after the 2014-2015 school year.





Sunday, August 24, 2014

Being Real with Relationships

Relationships matter.

I say this often.  They do.  Without them we would be a society without passion, without commitment, without learning.  Most importantly - a world without meaning.

But what does that really mean?

Take a moment to think about it.  Relationships are the basis for what we do.  I can tell a child something, show a child something, help a child experience something, but it matters because I care enough to help another.  To make sure they understand, and give them a platform to know that I believe in them.   It doesn't matter if it's my job or not, I want to help the child be more successful in life.  School isn't about "gotcha"; it's about growth, learning, and relationships.

Therefore, before kids are even names on a piece of paper assigned to my room, I care about them.  As a Christian, I pray about them.  I pray that I'm what they need, that I see them with clear eyes, that whatever I will do will penetrate their heart and grab their soul to move forward.  As a teacher, I prepare for them, create an inviting space, prepare lessons that invite choice, try to create an experience where each student sees his potential beyond the classroom walls.  As a human, I repeatedly tell them, "You matter. Your fingerprints are unique.  You are needed.  There is something in the world that only YOU can provide."

At this point, it's not even a choice.  By the time they walk in my room, I already care about them.

There are many ways I show this.

1.  I listen.  Sometimes at the beginning of the year I simply sit in the back and take notes.  I stop by a group and don't speak, but I listen to how they interact.  Being quiet allows true perspective on group dynamics.  Oftentimes they forget I'm sitting there.  In the hallways, I listen to conversations. I observe groupings; I watch for those who may not be involved. 

2.  I join in.  Once or twice a week I sit with my students in the cafeteria.  Occasionally they ask me why I do this, and my reply is, "I like you.  I enjoy being around people I like."  During our daily walk I ask how things are going.  I walk with them in the hallways. I ask about siblings. I do my best to remember facts, but I'm not shy when I forget.  I simply ask again.

3.  I extend grace.  With any relationships, sometimes emotion gets in the way of good decisions.  It's important that kids understand responsibility, so occasionally consequences are inevitable.  I work to make sure that the kids understand that consequences are a result of a choice, not how I feel about them.  If this is a new concept, sometimes I have to extend it many times.  Kids will test boundaries.

4.  I ask for grace.  I'm not perfect.  I'm a continual work in progress, and this is important to remember.  My students need to know that there are times when I don't hold all the answers or have the perfect response.  It's called being human.  Being direct and honest are qualities that kids need to see adults use. 

5.  Embrace the uniqueness of each child.  Rarely are there a group of 30 people who have the exact same needs.  Look at what each child needs to be successful.  Is it standing? sitting? moving? writing? drawing? sharing?  There are a million answers, but take the time to recognize our different ways of learning.

6.  I smile.  I laugh. I choose positive.  Every day my students should know that I love being with them.  I love sharing lessons; I love giving; I love learning with them.

We all know that kids will stumble in our room from all walks of life.  Some will eagerly embrace us.  Others will challenge.  A few will scorn.  The truth is that at the end of the day it's worth every effort.  It takes time.  Some will need more time and effort.  Some will feel like a brick wall.  It's important to continue reaching - continue on the path to show them that they matter. 

When you see this, it will change your life. 

More importantly, it will change theirs.





Sunday, August 3, 2014

5 Word GPS challenge

Last summer our principal invited a guest speaker to our building to encourage us to step out in creativity.

Perhaps you've heard of him?  Dave Burgess.

If you've ever been on Twitter on Mondays at 8 CST, you've probably seen the #tlap craze.  Honestly?  It helped me shift my perceptions just enough to have experienced the best year I've ever had . . . I felt empowered to make choices that were not always traditional.  Kids were invited to the experience -- and they learned.  They grew. 


I love learning from the best, so when his challenge passed across my Twitter feed this summer, I knew I had to participate.


http://www.daveburgess.com/new/the-5-word-gps-challenge/


Since kids start coming this week, this is the time to do it.


Where do I want to go with my class?


1. To renew -- I want to renew a love and passion for reading.  "Non-fiction helps us learn more; fiction helps us be more." (Noticer and Note) Many times students come to my class telling me that they don't like reading. It's boring. Then we start talking about books, and they tell me that they like suspense, or dystopian fiction, or zombies . . . Wait?  Zombies?  Yes.  It's a starting place.  Novels have the potential to change lives through allowing our brain new experiences.

2. To challenge -- Too often kids have learned to "play school."  I want to challenge them to grow.  That means that learning may look different across the classroom.  It also means I need to forge a strong relationship with each student to really dig and find the areas that will benefit them as a human.  I especially want to challenge in the area of writing.

3. To care -- If every child feels like a favorite of mine, it has been a good day.  I want each child sitting in the room to know that he/she is cherished.  Every single person matters.  Every single person will leave unique fingerprints upon the class, the school, the lives of others. 

4. To instill -- To instill the ability to see from a new perspective is a passion of mine.  What happens if we change the setting?  What happens if we add music? Why did the author use this word?  A shift in perspective can honestly change the world.  Looking outside of our own set of circumstances builds empathy, excites innovation, and changes us as humans.

5.  To excite -- What is more important than exciting a child to the point where he wants to become a life-long learner?  I want each child to embrace his future, to see potential, to be whatever he wants to be.

So that sets my GPS for the 2014-2015 school year.  I look forward to the roads and maps we will forge together.


True Leadership

I was sitting in church this morning enjoying the music when I watched our senior pastor (who is younger than me) join in the church band with his guitar.

He wasn't center stage, didn't need to stand out, just quietly joined in.

The music was beautiful.

It made me think of leadership skills.  You know, the leader who serves others just because it needs to be done.  The leader who brings chairs down to a classroom because they got moved over the summer, sends you a note in the mail to tell you that it was noticed that you were doing amazing things, who scrubs the graffiti off of the walls, who runs a report when you need it despite a million other pressing duties.  It made me think of the type of leader I want to be in my classroom.

I've always been of the mindset that there is no job that I'm above, and every job deserves my very best effort.  From serving someone yogurt, leading karaoke sessions, helping to cater, working in an office, teaching swimming lessons to teaching a class full of students, every job deserves my best me.  Someone has given me an opportunity to improve life for those around me and an expectation that I should do it with a willing heart.

I intentionally think about the topic of leadership in my classroom.  I do not ask my students to do anything that I'm not willing to do as well.  It is my hope that they recognize that I sweep the floor, pick up books, hand them pencils, work beside them, whatever the day may bring.  There are times that I'll ask for help, but others where I simply want them to see what it means to extend a helping hand. 

Yes, I control things in my room.  I do most of this by having clear expectations, honest conversations, and sharing why it's important to have some order.  I get passionate, dance, sing, and occasionally get a little loud, but it all comes back to the quality of serving the needs of those kids who are assigned to my room.  Serving them because I love them and care about their future.

Along the way, I hope I impact them in ways that will grow over years.  I hope I have them a different perspective from which to view life.  I hope I showed them grace. I hope that I gave them a sense of true leadership.

Leadership as a leader. Leadership as a servant. Leadership as a learner alongside them.

Thank you to the silent leaders in all walks of life.  The ones who do it because it needs to be done.  You are noticed and appreciated.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Let's make it a great one.

There is a subtle shift in the weather that always makes me think of school.  It's not really the heat.  It's always hot in August in Tennessee. Sometimes it's oppressively hot. But there is a whisper of fall, days just a bit shorter, glimpses of cool evenings, football socks in the laundry.  These are the things that signify a new year.

Right now I have my hands on many projects that I wanted to accomplish this summer. I have a quote to put on the wall -- "Believe in Yourself" with an emphasis on the "Be You" portion.  I've found new quotes that I hope will inspire students to persevere through difficulties. I've searched for inspiration to put on their desks to give them something to think about during transitions.  I've purchased glue sticks and cement nails to put new photos on the wall -- gifts from last year. 

My library holds the books that I added this summer. I'm excited to share new titles.  I've been tweeting about them all summer.  It's time to start interacting with kids directly.  There is a sense of expectation -- potential stuffed in every corner of the room.

I have my initial class list.  It's still shifting, but it's a step in the right direction.  Those names are already becoming important to me.  I linger as I see possibilities in every black letter that marches across the page.  I wonder about them.  What will they be like? What are their hobbies? interests? passions?  The mysteries and complexities of each child is already winding its way around my heart.

Yes.  It's time to start thinking about my goals for the year.

1.  I believe in the power of relationships.  Therefore my first goal is to develop rapport with each student.  On the first day I will take pictures to help me learn names (an area of weakness of mine - I always have to study them before every class).  On the backs of those pictures I will take notes about each child - interests, learning styles, confidence.  A separate copy of each picture will be kept for substitutes, guests, and other teachers.  I will reinforce this by having an intentional conversation with every student several times a week.  It will also drive choices offered in the curriculum I present.

2.  I will offer a reading group in my classroom over lunch.  I did this informally last year, but this year I'd really like to get a group together.  Every time we put a book in the hand of a reader, it has the potential to change his/her perspective forever.  Since I have a finite amount of time, I want to utilize it as much as possible.  Reading fiction is important -- it encourages us to be more, to experience more, and affects how students achieve.  I love the idea of sharing this with my students.

3.  I would like to do a school read on the same novel.  After having the fortune of reading the ARC of Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (thank you again to the lovely person who shared it with me), this may be an option our school chooses.  I plan to share it with other teachers this year and put a plan in place.  Hopefully this will put a shift to focus on building empathy, looking at different perspectives, and building a community that values all of its members.  The potential of learning through a common experience is exciting.

4.  I have been blessed to show strong growth among all of my students, but this year I would like to focus on developing a culture that treasures learning.  Often students  have learned to "play the game" of school, but I think it's important to look at each one to determine what is it that inspires.  What makes them read critically, question, challenge?  What choices do they make? How do they support those choices?  The measurement for this goal is a little harder, but I have some hard data from assessments from last year that will help.  In addition, I've been working on different ways of grouping kids to foster this type of environment.

5.  I want to incorporate writing even more into my classroom.  It today's world it's more important than ever to graduate students who can communicate clearly.  It's has always been my pattern to define what good writing looks like "the box" so in time students can climb out of it with their unique style.  This becomes an intimate conversation between the writer and reader, one that we can learn from together.

6.  I want to continue to grow as a learner myself.  Through blogging, communicating, reading, and writing, I will show growth in this area.  This summer I've played around with a novel.  If it continues to work, I want to work toward publishing it.



I know that some of these goals may seem hard to measure, but I think when we're dealing with humans, things get sticky.  Simply putting them down helps me to focus on what I want to accomplish.  There will be additions like using Google docs, blogs, Twitter that help me to connect with the kids that I am entrusted with this year; however, the foundation of the path is starting to grow.

The potential is huge. It's important - at times it's daunting, but each moment is a step forward. It's a step toward the future.

This excites me. It's humbling. It's terrifying. It's daunting. However, at the end of the day, excitement wins.  Together we will be more.

Next week on my board will be the following message, "Today is the only  August 8, 2014 you will experience.  Let's make it great!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

For Nothing will be Impossible --

It's #spiritualjourney time yet again.  Every Thursday, my goal is to take some time to reflect on my spiritual journal joining several bloggers who want to examine a biblical concept from the viewpoint of several different lenses.

This week is discussing the concept of following - more specifically following His will.

"For nothing will be impossible with God." Luke 1:37.

I love these words.  The hope they impart -- a perfect hope.

I tell my students to be careful when using absolutes -- nothing is a very powerful word. Yet it's absolutely perfect for this verse.  He is denied nothing. 

I looked at my initial class list this year.  Right now they are just names on paper -- a few I know from writing club, yearbook, plays,  older siblings . . . but for the most part they are names.  Searching through them, I find that I've already started my journey with them.  I've already started praying for them - that they will recognize in themselves the beauty they possess.  I've started caring.

What do I see?
Names with so much potential. 

I found myself humbled.  At this exact moment in my life, God has given me an opportunity to help these kids realize their potential.  He brought us together (some from close, others from far away) to sit together in a room and learn.  I began my habit of looking over the names.

Of breathing, "God, let me be what they need.  Let me be what You need."

Last year I got into the habit of starting every day with these words.  During our moment of silence, I reflect on my own biological children, those who have been in my classrooms across the years, and those who will feel my direct impact that day. 

Then I rely on Him to give me the words and tools that I will need. 

It results were amazing.  The change in perspective brought all of us a lot of happiness.

Don't get me wrong. I spend hours searching for, writing, discussing, and planning lessons that will help my students.  I work hard to accomplish what I do -- to foster a love of learning, strengthen writing skills, develop a critical eye toward reading and intention.    However, all of that means little if the child doesn't see his potential -- his unique beauty -- and start to focus on  how his presence will impact the world. 

Therefore, I give the credit to Him.  I follow. I trust.

He will NEVER fail me.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beauty, it's deeper than you think

One of the things I like most about blogging is a chance to reflect on different aspects of my life.  It's from that reflection that I see evidence of growth, change, and hopefully finding a  clearer view of my purpose in life.

A purpose that I cannot take credit for because it was a gift from God.  Hopefully I'm using it to please Him.

I join several bloggers in a spiritual Thursday blog challenge -- a challenge from Holly Mueller.  This week she asks us to define beauty, and how can we use beauty to glorify God? 

Here is her response:  http://hollymueller.blogspot.com/2014/07/spiritual-journey-thursday-you-dont.html

Of course I wouldn't have known about the challenge but through the writings of Greg Armamentos.  His unique viewpoints always gives me a different lens to contemplate and consider.  Thank you, Greg:  http://dashthebook.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/the-beauty-of-surrender/

So how do I define beauty? 

I know what commercials say -- skinnier, smarter, more expensive, perfection.  These are all concepts that apply to the humanness in our hearts.  They are materialistic nuggets that dig deep into the soul designed to make us question, "Am I enough?"  Inevitably the answer is always no.  There will always be someone with something you do not have. 

Or at least you will perceive that is the truth.

The good news is that it's not.

The very act of being human makes us imperfect.  Though the devil does delight in hearing us question ourselves.  Sometimes he turns up the volume quite loud so that the sound of doubt lingers in our heads.  Evil little bugger.

See, the truth is that by nature we are all beautiful. We are enough.  In a snowstorm, a flake may resemble those falling around it, but each one has a unique path, a unique perspective, a unique impact on the world.  Depending on the conditions, they may consist of ice pelting relentlessly, or lazy enjoying a descent worthy of stage -- but they are all unique and wondrously made.  Every single one has an exclusive beauty.  Every flake leaves an impact on the world.

If God cares enough about snowflakes . . . imagine how He feels about us.

He loves us.  Humbling, isn't it?

True beauty is when you let God's love shine through you.  Listen to Him.  Take the gifts He has bestowed upon you - your distinctive perspective that no one else has - and use them to delight God.  I have a saying on my refrigerator, "What I am is God's gift to me, what I become is my gift to Him."  In my mind, these gifts define beauty. 

I'm not saying that I never succumb to the human voice of doubt.  I do.

But I'm happiest when I focus instead on Him.  It opens my eyes in ways I never expected.  It fills my heart in ways that material good could never fill.  It soothes my soul.  It gives me such a rich life indeed. 

Beauty can be found in many places - a tiny flower, a child's eye, a powerful storm, love, sunlight filtering through the leaves, October skies, an ocean, a puddle.

Take time to look at these gifts.  Try on a new perspective.  Turn down the volume of humanity.  Listen.  Love.

It makes life exceptional.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Express mailing chicks and other ramblings

Thank you to  Greg Armamentos and Jennifer Houlette for your constant affirmations on my blog.  At your invitation, I'm excited to share in the challenge of sharing my spiritual journey this Thursday (the call to action inspired by Holly Mueller).

Did you know that you can express mail chicks?  That's right.  Due to the nourishment in the yoke, they don't require food or water for the first few days of life.


Taken from the frequently asked questions at www.mypetchicken.com

How come hatcheries only ship chicks when they're 1 day old?

    For up to 72 hours after they hatch, baby chicks are still ingesting their yolk sacs. This provides them all the nourishment they need, which allows us the narrow window we need to ship them out. After 72 hours, their yolk sacs are gone and they need immediate access to food and water. Without it, they'll die. If we were to ship chicks at 3 days old or a week old, they surely wouldn't survive the trip.

Okay, so what does that have to do with my spiritual journey?  Well, if a mother hen had to leave her eggs to care for the ones that hatched first, it would allow the rest to be vulnerable.  So God provides exactly what they need to survive until the entire flock has an opportunity to thrive.

Ahh.  The point.  In every situation, God provides exactly what we need.  Every. single. time.  His timing is perfect.

See, I ran across this information on a Facebook post. Yes, occasionally God uses Facebook to give us a new perspective.  My first thought was, "That's cool." 

Then I saw it again.  I thought about it.  I realized how perfect it is.

God works that way.  He works in perfection.

I remember the day I decided to "go back" to teaching after a ten year hiatus.  Having four children in a five year span can change your career path drastically.  I missed teaching. Every year I found myself looking at openings and making excuses.  Graduating college, I had a B.S.E. in Middle/Secondary English and a minor in theater.  I decided to finish my M.S.E. in Curriculum and Instruction over the next few years.  I didn't realize how important that detail was ten years later in life when it allowed me a freer path to get a teaching license in Tennessee.  If I hadn't, I wouldn't be exactly where I am today. 

I was working as an office manager of a small private school, when I made the decision to apply to a prestigious private school as an English teacher.  I didn't have my Tennessee license yet, and this could be a fantastic opportunity for my daughter.  Through multiple phone interviews, they asked me to come in and interview in person as well as teach an 8th grade class.  Though I ended up being the second choice in that situation, it was exactly the professional nourishment I needed to be more intentional in my quest to get back in the classroom.  It gave me confidence to move forward exactly when I did.

I sent off the paperwork to the state in March.  It's a crazy time of year to expect a state agency to work quickly, so I followed it up with a phone call to find out exactly what tests/courses I'd need to get a license.  I figured I would be subbing for a year while I earned my license.  It turns out that my eight years of experience and Master's degree allowed me an opportunity for an apprentice license.

(I didn't believe her -- I actually started studying for the ELA Praxis; however, my 38 hours of college English hours highly qualified me K-12 ELA.  Once again -- choices from years before opened a door that I assumed was closed.  This was an important lesson in trusting God and not my own understanding.)

Excitedly, I sent out my resume, cover letters, and took the screening test in my county.  There were two openings posted, but I sent it to every middle school.  (See previous posts about why I love middle school so much.) 

The first call came a few days later.  The principal wanted to meet me to discuss an 8th grade English/Science position.  I remember thinking, Science?  Me? Gulp. 

See, I love what I do. I love writing.  I love reading.  I love acting.  I love engaging in all forms of communication.  I'm good at it.  I have passion for it.  I had to do a lot of soul searching to answer the question, can a good teacher teach any subject or is the subject part of what makes you a good teacher?  The principal and I had a great conversation.  She told me that day that I was at the top of her list, but she had a few more people to talk with.  While she found someone who was actually qualified in science and ELA, I knew a little more about me through the process.  I remember her telling me that she felt I would be a strength to the district and that she would call anyone looking for an ELA teacher on my behalf. 

Meanwhile, the same week, my license was approved.  I sent a copy to all of the administrators who had openings to let them know that I was official.  That afternoon my phone rang.  Could I come interview for a science position?  I gulped.  Yes.  See, I would never turn down an opportunity to talk about something I loved.  I love teaching.  In the interview, the principal said, you're obviously an English teacher.  I haven't posted it yet, but I will probably have an opening in a few weeks.  Ahh - an open door.  This school was just down the street from me.  I wondered at the possibilities.

Later that afternoon I received an e-mail asking for an interview the next day.  It was a new school in the southern part of my county..  It was also for 8th grade English.  Could I come in the next day?  Sure!

I remember praying a lot that day.  I wanted to be where God wanted me to be.  I wanted to do what He wanted me to do.  If this was right, please open the door.  If not, close it tightly.

That was the job I got.

Later I learned the following:
1.  They never would have interviewed me without the license in hand. I had it for 24 hours prior to the interview.
2.  I was actually in the second group of potential teachers. They didn't find the right fit in the first group. 
3.  The job at the second school where I interviewed never materialized due to numbers.

See, I asked, and it aligned perfectly.  It wasn't a traditional path.  It was one where actions years before allowed it to happen. 

And I feel like I am exactly where He wants me to be.  I am blessed by colleagues who bless me, encourage me, and challenge me to have a growth mindset.  I have incredible students who share their successes with me.  Despite the crazy hours and hard work, I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

The whole conversation started with a little meditation on shipping a chick.  The lesson of His perfect plan for me is where I'll end it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just a minute

A few weeks ago my pastor preached about the phrase, just a minute.

How often do you say it? 

Often it's mundane.  It's a momentary distraction from something you're doing.  Perhaps it's a guilty minute of wanting to finish a chapter in a book before facing reality.  Maybe it's the snooze button on the alarm clock giving you a minute, or two of continued oblivion.

Other times it can shake your world.

The other day I was having the best day. I spent the majority of the day doing my favorite activities -- reading, writing a blog entry, working on a craft for my room at school.  I had no where I needed to be, the kids were all happily entertained, and I had no restrictions on my time.  (I admit it, I even did a happy dance!)

Then the phone rang.

The phone often rings, but this time it was with devastating news.

Immediately life changed.  Tears, talks, spending the evening trying to make sense of things.  Helping my kids understand, giving them a safe place to share.

But this post isn't about the phone call.  It's about how minutes count in life.

A moment can change the world in the life of a child.  Going out of your way to notice them.  Ask them about something they care about.  Show them you care in tangible ways.

I think in life we often get entangled in distractions and obligations.  Our calendars are full, our pile of work is towering, and we are out to change the world.  We expect our children to know that we care because we work hard.

And we forget that the most important thing we do is simple.  It's relationships.  It's taking the moment to change the world for someone else, shift his point of view, provide a new perspective.

Every moment we're given is a gift. Embrace it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Today the world is a little less bright

I know I feel inadequate to the task that has tumbled around in my brain, but I also feel compelled to write about it.

You see, today the world is a little less bright.

Everyone has a unique fingerprint, footprint, even tongue print. I tell my students that no one person in the world will see things exactly as they do.  Their viewpoints are unique and special. Every single one of them provides the world with something that no one else can.

Every single person matters.

And today the world lost one. His pain was too big, so he took it away. My heart shatters every time I think of the phone call I received last night.  It shatters again when I think of having to tell my boys about the loss of a teammate.  The pain cuts deep.  The phone call changed the lives of everyone on that team - everyone who knew him.

My heart goes out to his parents, his family. I've spent the night praying for them -- for grace, for peace, for love, for light to shine again.  It won't be an easy process.

I know I was plagued with the demons of guilt and doubt last night. What more could I have done? What more could I have seen?  That's a human reaction to try and fix a horrible, horrible situation.  The fact is, I simply cannot change what has happened.

So I need to focus on what can happen. The potential for growing from a hard lesson.  What can I do for the people who are here?  The kids who live in my house, the kids who sit in my church, the kids who sit in my class, the kids who were on his team.  Notice them. Love them. Show them that yes, they matter.

Listen to them.

Kids struggle with the same guilt that plagued me,.  Was an off-hand comment a little too biting?  Why didn't they reach out just a little more?  How was their teammate internalizing his pain?  How can they fix it?  Unfortunately they can't.  Instead they have to grow.  Adults can step in and help the growth become a positive.  The lesson is that as humans we need to be a little kinder because you never know what someone is dealing with.

I wish we all understood this perspective.  Be a little kinder.  Smile.  Celebrate the fact that we are in the struggle of life together.  Design a life where we build each other up instead of tear each other down - the people you know, and the people you don't.

The world is forever changed when it loses a perspective - a child, a future generation. So for today, the world is a little less bright.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Why do I read? Authors are heroes.

Today has been a wonderful day.  I've spent the afternoon engaged in one of my favorite hobbies -- reading.

I've always loved to read. Through reading I've gained experience, perspective, and joy.  I believe that reading helps promote empathy, caring, and has made me a better teacher on every level.

One of my favorite quotes from The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is on page 106.  "I do not promote reading to my students because it is good for them or because it is required for school success.  I advocate reading because it is enjoyable and enriching." (Off topic, but I love everything about The Book Whisperer - it gives me a reason to engage freely in what I love.  I am definitely an enthusiastic reader - in our budget, my "fun" money almost exclusively goes to books.)

I read because it makes me a better human being.

Last summer I won a signed copy of One for the Murphy's by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  I walked around on a cloud for the rest of the week.  She included a bracelet with the title of the book and the slogan, "Be Someone's Hero" on it.  It's a little faded because I haven't taken it off since that day.  I use it as a reminder . . . that every day I need to be a hero to a child.  It was a lesson that I learned through her story.  It was a lesson that I was able to share with several in my class this year.  Ms. Hunt provided the tool to thrill and engage a child.  Her name signed across the cover made it even better.

Authors have always been heroes to me.  Through stories, I learned more about others which gave me more respect and a different perspective.  Authors have the power to change lives.

I can pinpoint when it started - Chris Crutcher, my junior year of high school.  Mike Printz (you might know him as the inspiration for the Printz Award - it always thrills me to see his name on books at bookstores proudly displaying the golden "P".  Yes, it always makes me pick the book up to read more) was our librarian.  He invited Chris Crutcher to do a week-long writing workshop with a group of 20 students.

To this day, I don't know how I was lucky enough to be a part of that group.  However, I do know it changed my life forever.

He was writing Crazy Horse Electric Game during his visit.  I remember doing workshops with him and having him share parts of his rough manuscript.  I remember marvelling at how this man was humbly asking my opinion -- a man who literally would have his words read by millions of people more qualified than I was.  Through him, and his stories, I learned that people often aren't what they show on the outside.  You never really know what's happening inside.  I learned to be kind because you really don't know what a person is experiencing.

I cried. I memorized passages. It helped to craft the person I am today.  His literature will always be important to me.

Stories are powerful.  Everything we learn is through story - or the creation of it.  Opening ourselves to the stories of others are important.  The pen has the power to change the world

My students know my passion for reading.  Often on Monday they ask what I read over the weekend.  Often I share part of it . . . and end up putting a story in the hands of a child.  Through that gift, I was able to open his/her eyes to possibilities.

So I'll keep my book budget.  I'll keep reading.  I'll keep sharing. 

Because in my eyes, authors are true heroes.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Mount Teachmore

The post that inspired this one:  http://dmartin618.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/mount-teachmore/

Mount Teachmore

I think it’s only fitting that my tenth summer blog be about teachers who inspired me along the way, so when I saw Deb's blog on Mount Teachmore, I was intrigued.

Who would be on my Mount Teachmore?

There are many.  Would it be Mrs. Sheets (home ec – middle school – who taught me to sew, cook, and had the lovely job of teaching middle school hygiene), a passionate educator who really loved her students?  Mr. Henderson (speech – middle school) who taught drama and recognized a performer in the wrapped up in the inner turmoil of my awkward shyness?  Mrs. Albers (4th grade) who was strict, but taught incredible organizational skills?  Mrs. Parmley (3rd grade) who read the most wonderful stories after lunch? I can still hear her today read Shel Silverstein’s poem about a peanut butter sandwich.  Mr. Poort who inspired a love of learning about biology; I was amazed that I loved dissecting frogs, fish, and pigs to learn more about how humans work. Stories and memories have swirled through my head as I tried to figure out the four most influential.

Funny how they’re all English teachers.

I think I drove my math teachers crazy.

But the men who are carved into Mount Rushmore are the men who were significant in building the character of the nation.  The teachers I mention were significant in helping to mold the character of me and who I am today.  Their impact gave me the desire to believe in myself, stretch to reach goals, add to the human race, and be more.  Their gifts humble me.

The first face I would carve is Mr. Doug Goheen (Sophomore English, Theater 1, and TWHS Players).  Entering his class I was an awkward, unsure, somewhat shy mess. I had a desire to perform, and a creative streak that was hidden by my insecurity.  I loved stories. I loved writing. I loved acting.  These things gave me the opportunity to be someone I wasn’t.  I needed a lot of refining in all of those areas, and he gave me the opportunity to do so. He challenged me, frustrated me, encouraged me and allowed me to learn through failure and embracing hard work.  Sound familiar?  Good teaching practices are good teaching practices.  Period.  Thank you, Mr. Goheen.

My next face would be Mrs. Ann McDonald (Junior English, Creative Writing). Mrs. McDonald was my spark.  It was in her class that I learned about the power of journaling.  She helped me find my voice.  I remember my surprise when she thought something I wrote was really good – good enough to publish.  I still have that assignment.  It was a dialogue of my right brain and left brain discussing a swim meet.  The power of showing someone you believe in her and what she creates is life altering.  Mrs. McDonald extended grace and taught me that writing is a process where only the writer will truly know when the piece is done.  She fed my creative soul.  Thank you, Mrs. McDonald.

Mr. Duane Shufleberger (Journalism 1, Photography, Newspaper) is the third carving.   His was the gift of critical thinking.  What was the motivation behind this news article?  How do you listen to the stories of others? How do you find the truth?  I still remember his weekly news quizzes.  Sigh, what I lacked in knowledge, I usually made up for in creativity.  Under his leadership, we had an amazing paper. Through a lot of trust on his part, he allowed us to tackle controversial topics, and he encouraged us to always push the bar in a professional manner.  He taught me a lot about being professional, handling responsibility, and integrity in writing.  Thank you, Shuf.  (He is also the root of my high school nickname --  Aimless, but that is a story for another time.)

Finally I put my last hero on the mount,  Mrs. Marge Bakalar (Humanities, APE).  After all of these years, it’s hard to think of all she did for me without a lump in my throat.  She really saw each child in the room.  She loved them, and believe me, she challenged them.  I’ve never worked harder in my life – not even in college.  She gave me passion.  Passion to know more, be more, work harder.  She knew exactly when to push to take you to the next level in learning.  I learned through her exactly how much I didn’t know, but she laid the foundation to help me find my way.  Thank you, Mrs. Bakalar, the world misses you.

Seeing the potential, embracing creativity, challenging critical thinking, passion, these are the true gifts that an educator can give a child.  These are the gifts that help frame who I am today.

I thank all of the people who walked with me as a child.  I can only hope that I’ll mean the same to my students – that they can see the beauty of the future I see when I look in their eyes.
Mount Teachmore.  It's a beautiful thought.

 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rigor.

Rigor.

Every morning when I power on my work computer I see it -- relevance, relationships, relentlessness and rigor.  Alliterative reminders of the focus of my district.

It's usually the one I need to define for kids.  When they look it up in the dictionary, it means unflexible or unyeilding; however, in the beauty of the English languge, the word has evolved into an educational buzzword that means an expectation that is academically, intellectually, or personally challenging.

I like that definition better. 

Notice and Note has helped me put this in perspective.  They explain that it's not the text that is rigorous, but it should be our examination of that text.  Think about their analogy on page 21, "A professional football player lifting a 100-pound weight ten times owuld not be justified in calling that a rigorous workout; an eighth grader trying to get into shape for the football team probably would.  And the fourth grader, who could not lift the weight at all, would, like the professional football player, be hard-pressed (pun intended) to have said his workout was rigorous.  The quality, rigor, does not reside in the barbell but in the interaction with it."

This was an "A-ha!" moment for me.  Rigorous training does not reside in the equipment, but in how we use it.

This makes sense.  It actually makes a lot of sense.

Therefore, rigorous reading of a text does not mean we need to choose more difficult pieces of text, but rather we need to react more intentionally with the text that we're using.  What is the focus of the task? What questions does the reading stimulate? What problem needs to be solved? What lesson needs to be learned? What unique viewpoint of the world is this text providing?

They all lead to one of my favorite questions, "Why is it important?"

This conversation is freeing to me.  This conversation allows me to scaffold how my students interact with text to build them to ones that require more complex thinking without questioning how rigorous they are.  When planned correctly, engagement and commitment to reading along the way are a rigorous activity - pushing the bar, walking with the student to think more, leaving a desire for more.

As I reflect over our reading list for this year, this approach will flavor how I approach our texts.  My original checklist for rigorous interaction with the text would include some of the following areas:

*  Students develop a deeper understanding of the topic.
*  Students use this understanding to develop personal claims about the text.
*  Student claims can be supported across multiple texts.
*  Evidence is used to support these claims through paraphrasing/summarizing/quoting.
*  Students elaborate on that that evidence supports the original claim.
*  Students practice using academic vocabulary as appropriate.
*  Students build upon other's contributions to the conversation.

When writing, I'd add
*  Students present knowledge using a logical format.

As the year progresses, I would probably add/subtract from this list, individualizing it more to the needs of the group/child. 

Regardless of the traditional definition of the word, educational rigor should embrace and advance the learning of each child.