Culture

All Work and No Play…?

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How on earth is the holiday break over already? HOW?!? We got two weeks off from school this year (and for that I am insanely grateful because not being an Ohio native is a STRUGGLE, let me tell you), but I literally did NOTHING. How is that even possible when I feel absolutely EXHAUSTED?! Please tell me there are others out there riding the same struggle bus as me this week!

I guess I should rephrase: I, in fact, DID do things over the break. My husband and I loaded our 4 year-old son into our Hyundai Santa Fe and took off for Wilmington, NC to visit his family for 5 days. From there, we drove to my home town of Meadville, PA to be with my family for 5 days, with a quick stop in Virginia in between because we just couldn’t do the trip in one day. Over those 11 days, we drove, we ate, we laughed, we wrapped, we hugged, we unwrapped, we played, and we slept–my, did we ever sleep.

But, you know what I didn’t do?

Anything for school.

Nothing.

Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I’m clearly off to a rough start to 2019. Is it too late for a do-over?!

And I feel TERRIBLY guilty.

WHY? Why do I feel that guilt? Is it because we get “all of this time off,” so we should be doing something to “earn our pay?” Or is it because we have extra time on our hands, and we are so conditioned to be thinking about our classrooms that our brains are constantly whirring to try to make our practices better? It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about school–I definitely said jokingly, multiple times, “I should be doing some school work,” or “I should be reading this book for school right now.” And then I would laugh and move on, continuing to do things with my family. But in the back of my mind, the guilt would still linger. I would say to myself, I should be taking some time out of every day to read, or work on grading, or look at lesson plans, or focus on planning future units, etc. etc. etc. Why can’t I get it together and focus on my life’s work!?

Regardless of the answer, my brain shut down. It took an actual break. It couldn’t handle thinking about best practices, narratives that needed grading, or short story previewing that I had on my plate to work on over the holidays. And you know what? That’s ok. The work will get done. It will be there tomorrow. It’s not a matter of life or death. Learners will not suffer immensely if they do not get their work back on the day we return. Why do we educators put so much pressure on ourselves to create a to do list for our time away from work? And why do we feel the need to put this pressure on our learners, as well? They need a respite as well. I watched my gifted students stress and obsess over midterm exams during the last week of classes in December, and talk about how they stayed up until all hours of the morning studying, reviewing problems, and reviewing notes, and just being anxious balls of energy. My learners are twelve and thirteen years old. They clearly need a rest. So, we teachers need to start giving ourselves some grace and allow ourselves to take a break from the classroom, too.

What would YOU do if you allowed yourself to actually rest over break?

Goal Setting · Reflection

#2019onelittleword…continued

Kara’s word: Write

On January 1st, when I started to see others’ words of intent, I acted like I hadn’t yet decided on mine. I scoured the internet for ideas and made a list 24 words long – words like “brave,” “ritual,” “simplify,” “less,” “love,” “vulnerable,” “confidence,” and “imagine.” I pretended like they were all under serious consideration.

I could sit here and explain how tough it was to decide on this year’s #onelittleword, but I would be lying to you because I’ve been lying to myself. I scrolled through instagram viewing other people’s words of intent, convinced that I should find something different. I don’t mean unique. I was looking for a word other than the one that has been slowly but surely, year after year, growing in my soul but consistently silenced by my mind.

I am a mother, a wife, a teacher, and a reader, and I want to be a writer. Only a few people know this last bit about me. Heck, it’s taken me awhile to know this about myself.

This presents many problems: I don’t know exactly what that looks like in my life. I don’t know what kind of writing to do or what to write about. I don’t know where or how writing will fit into my already busy life, and I definitely don’t know what it’ll take for me to confidently add “writer” to my identity.

What I do know is this – writers write.

Therefore, I have to start somewhere. This is it. This is the year. I am going to stop talking myself out of writing.

I don’t have time.

I have more important things on my plate.

And the worst of all:  

I don’t have anything to say.

So, this is my word. It’s scary, and I have doubts, and I’m going to face setbacks, and some people just won’t get it, but I’m going to push on. Sometimes my writing will be made public, and sometimes it’ll remain personal. I want to explore, to feel, to reflect, to connect. It’s going to be a huge challenge to build a habit of writing, but I’m serious about finding its purpose in my life and nurturing this little passion of mine. This year, I write.  

Emily’s word: Single-task

At the top of the list of strengths on my old resume, you’ll find it. I bragged about it for years. Wore it as a badge of honor. And, felt the sting of guilt when I didn’t engage with it enough. What is it, you ask? It’s my ability to multitask. “Oh, you won’t BELIEVE how many things I can do at the same time, while also entertaining 25 little humans! I am the QUEEN of multitasking.” (insert crown emoji)

I’m here to tell you that in 2019, I am breaking up with multitasking. We had an interesting run. Like most relationships, there were butterflies in the beginning. Multitasking was charming. It made promises of a future I could have only dreamed of: wild productivity! I was able to keep up with the Jones’s and put PInteresters to shame. But, after a couple decades, I just wasn’t happy anymore. Multitasking and I were growing apart. We wanted different things.

I am thrilled to introduce my new flame, single-task living. As easy as it sounds (after all, balancing on one leg is significantly easier than balancing on one leg while hula hooping and reciting the alphabet backwards, right?!), focusing solely on one task is nearly impossible for me. I’ve been refining the skill of doing more than one thing for the majority of my adult life.  Whether it be household chores, doing work for school, eating, or managing my social life – I was addicted to finding ways to be more “productive” in a shorter amount of time. The multitasker’s high is no joke!

What I have learned though, through our tumultuous relationship, is that multitasking is not only impossible, but damaging to my productivity and my attention. In the past, I’ve dedicated my yearly intentions to being more present. The struggle was real. I could not for the life of me master being present in the moment. Ever the problem solver, I decided to dig closer to the root of the issue – turns out my propensity to do as many things as possible at one time was keeping me from grounding myself in the present moment. Major facepalm!

I will not lie to you. I do not have a purposeful plan of how I am going to approach this one little word in 2019. I’ve picked up a few strategies and skills from the books and podcasts that have inspired me to let multitasking go – none of which have worked yet. However, like many of my co-collaborators, I feel empowered just saying this word! It feels, oddly, like starting a new relationship – with that awkward, yet hopeful, beginning. I know that I will undoubtedly slip and go back to multitasking here and there; my breakups have never been clean. But, the proof is in the pudding and all my research supports that it’s time to move on. In 2019, I will seek to be a happy and productive single-tasker!

Lindsey’s word(s): Be present

I’ve always been a rule follower, but if the rules don’t match what I need them to, I like to bend them a bit to make them fit. Hence my One Little Word(s) for 2019: be present. I was going to go with the word “aware,” but it just didn’t fit for me. Being aware is different from being present. Being aware doesn’t mean I’m engaged in what’s happening. The word “present” seems more active to me, if you will.

My goal for 2019 is to be present in my classroom, in my relationships with people, and with my family. At school, my brain feels like it has 50 billion browsers open at all times, so it’s hard to focus and be present for my learners at all times. I plan to be better at shutting the browsers and focusing on the here and now. I want to be able to fully focus on the small group I’m working with, rather than barely listening because I am thinking about the next small group I need to meet with.

My relationships with my friends and my colleagues are extremely important to me, and fostering those relationships feeds my soul. I want to be present and listen more, and not be quick to have a response. I want to be able to ask more questions. I want my favorite people to know I care about them and that my mind is on them when we are together.

Lastly, I want to be present for my family. Often times I find myself getting home from school and having a lot to do around the house–vacuuming, folding laundry, prepping dinner, or even thinking about things I need to do the next day at school. When that happens, my husband and I will divide and conquer, handing our son the iPad and working to get it all done. This is definitely not being present. My focus needs to be on my husband and son, not everything else. While I absolutely can’t just stop doing laundry, I can absolutely better balance my time and find a different time to do the laundry so I can be spending week nights with David and Holden.

There will be times of failure, but I’m hoping to at least focus more on the people and things that mean the most to me. So, here’s to being present in 2019!

Corinne’s word: Balance

New Year’s resolutions are an enigma for me. I understand their purpose and since I am a goal setter, I never have had any difficulty coming up with a meaningful list of resolutions.  The mysterious part of the process is committing to my new habits over the long haul. In fact, I can’t remember a year when I have had the resolve to stick to my goals through January.

2019 is going to be different. Not because I will be more motivated or I am stronger, but because I have changed by perspective. Don’t get me wrong. Personal and professional goal setting is in my DNA, but what I’ve found I really need is balance. Giving myself the grace to make mistakes, take a night off from work as a principal, or eat a piece of pie may refresh me enough to follow through on what really matters, a healthy mind and body…Balance.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will strive to be my best, but I will also not be so hard on myself when I don’t meet my goals. I may not be as fit or well-read as I had hoped, but I will be happier. And- that is all I really need…Balance.

Melissa’s word: Perspective

It’s funny how the simple declaration of one little word can be so powerful. Over the past three years, I have had surprising success making positive changes in my life by declaring one little word as my focus for the year. While many struggle to keep a New Year’s resolution longer than a couple of months, I find the commitment to one little word to be a good fit for me.

This year, however, I found myself more aware of the weight this word would carry throughout the year; I knew from experience, I would undoubtedly be challenged by this one word as its layers of meaning were gradually peeled back, affecting more of my life than I originally thought. So, this year it took me several days to make up my mind.

Like many, I wear a variety of hats in the course of a day: wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, colleague. I fashion each of these hats I wear a little differently, and I try my best to wear them all with style. But some days I fall short. Some days, I have so much to do and rush from one thing to the next, that I find myself literally out of breath. Most nights, I’m snoring on the couch by 8pm. It’s exhausting.

It’s ridiculous to live life this way, so I am promising myself to put things in better perspective this year.

Somehow I have allowed all the little, unimportant things multiply and take over my time. If I am honest, I think I have justified this takeover by believing that all these things I do are for the people I care about. The reality is, my family would much rather have me spend more uninterrupted time with them instead of doing things for them.

Professionally, I have fallen into the trap of concentrating on the one thing that went wrong instead of the many things that went right on any given day. I have justified this by calling it “reflection” when the reality is, it is flawed thinking. Why am I robbing myself of joy of teaching? In 2019, I will celebrate the small things and keep the challenges in perspective. I will quiet my brain at the end of the day, enjoy the stillness of my empty classroom, and appreciate the growth that has taken place.

Changing my perspective isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a mind shift, and I’m going to have to accept some checkboxes are going to be left unchecked. Still, I think a change in perspective is a positive adjustment I can make in 2019.

Kris’ word: Plot twist

Okay, so I cheated. If we really want to get technical, this is two words. However, hear me out. Life is so full of twists and turns, and sometimes those twists and turns are so twisty and so turn-y that it can be overwhelming.  So as not to get caught up in being overwhelmed or within the chaos that can, really, let’s be honest, make us crazy, I choose to call out in my head “plot twist.”

Yes, life is full of chaos. Early morning wake-ups, early morning meetings, early morning jousting with the copier that always seems to break when it’s my turn. Plot Twist. Time to go use the projector, a computer screen and half sheets of paper.

Afternoon lunches that are 10 minutes long because it takes me ten minutes to get down to the teacher’s lounge, three minutes to heat my leftovers, 10 minutes of catching up with friends, eating and then sprinting back to your classroom only to find that your projector is flashing on and off on and off for no apparent reason. Plot twist. Time to use half sheets of paper and a white board.

After school  meetings for clubs, getting home to get my children to their respective activities, and my dinner that I had planned and sounded so delicious and made me salivate all the way home was actually a Pinterest classic that took eight hours in the crock pot and not 10 minutes in the InstaPot like I thought. Plot twist. Time for Cane’s Chicken.

In the middle of the chaos, the horrible no good bad day, actually stopping and saying “plot twist” can redirect my day. No kidding, it really can. Because it is my belief that after plot twists, an awesome and memorable day can occur. Because as we know from the books and movies plot twists can be the. best. part. They can produce the greatest teachable moments. They can produce the most creative outcomes. They can produce memorable pieces of life that you may not have otherwise had. They can be the good stuff that takes you from good to great. 

It is easy to get caught up in the chaos. To get caught up in the “seriously?”. To get caught up in that day or week or month or year or years (for that matter) that just seem to keep coming at me. It’s easy to feel scooped up into that tornado of a million things life throws at me. But I won’t, no, I refuse to let it get me down. I’m going to plot twist the heck out of this year. 

Friends, I hope you will join me in the joy of the plot twist, the magic that turns that Terrible Tuesday into something you didn’t see coming when you first hit that alarm.

Rachel’s word: Focus

I struggled to come up with a word because I wanted to sound sophisticated and reflective, but I ended up setting on something a little more basic. My one word for 2019 is focus. I chose this word because I tend to have a hard time focusing on the task at hand, and I often have a million other things that I’m thinking about as I’m doing something. I believe that if I can just give myself the grace to focus on whatever I’m doing, I can get much more accomplished, and do so with better results.

I need to let things go if they are not important, and use my time to focus on meaningful activities and interactions. This doesn’t mean that everything I’m doing may count as “productive,” but should feel right for me. Maybe my focus is relaxation when I’m at home on the weekend and want to watch Netflix. But when I do that, I want to focus on what I’m doing — watching a show — and not checking Facebook or my email.

Focus” for me also means putting down my phone more. I am too quick to jump on social media, and I have moved those icons to a separate screen on my phone to make it less of a habit. Because I often feel scatterbrained, it also takes me a long time to get started on a given task, so I believe trying to focus on one thing at a time will help me work on that as well.


Goal Setting · Reflection

#2019OneLittleWord

Beth’s word: connect

This is the fifth year that I’ve chosen a word to be my focus for the year. I struggled and went back and forth between several words this year (even as I write this I feel myself wavering). But, “connect” is a word that exemplifies several of my goals for 2019.

In my professional life, connecting is one of my main priorities as I work with teachers across the school district – some of whom I’ve not known well. My hope is that by building connections that trust and rapport follow so that we can have conversations about student learning. I am enjoying this new role that allows me to get to know colleagues who value reading and writing and who love working with middle school students.

I feel as if I’ve lost some of my connection to my fitness self. I’d like to get back to my yoga practice and to meditation. In 2018, I let other things get in my way and keep me from being fit and flexible. I miss the calm, powerful feeling of walking out of a studio or off my yoga mat.

Finally, with a daughter in college and one who is starting to think about that step, I want to continue to connect with them so that our relationships stay strong. I can always work on keeping strong connections to friends and family – both far and near as well.

Lori’s word: intentional

This past year was sprinkled with personal chaos and professional priorities that at times pulled me away from what is important in life.  For 2019, I am committing to be more intentional with my time, energy and love as I refocus on the work and life balance ahead.

In my office, this will mean using each moment of my day to be intentional about serving the people that matter most in my work, our students.  I want to be increasingly intentional about choices and decisions so that we can continually be better at educating and supporting students.  I will also be intentional with my time, making sure that I am keeping focused on forward motion and change that will be positive for my work and the work of my close colleagues.  Through this work, I will intentionally be joyful.

In my home, I will be intentional to be present, focused, and flexible at home with my children.  I will model a more healthy approach (I may have eaten away my stress in 2018.) to dealing with our lovely, chaotic, and busy life.  I will be intentional in fostering the relationships with my husband, my children and my parents.  I will live with intentional focus on family.

In my free time, I will be intentional in spending quality time with my closest, dearest friends.  2018 reminded me of how important friendships are and that they need a little nourishment from time to time.  I will serve my friends in the way that they serve and support me.

Here’s to a more intentional 2019!

Rita’s word: forward

Determining a word for this year was a bit of a challenge. A few words bounced around in my head, but none felt completely right. Eventually, I noticed that the words were connected; each would lead me forward.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my most fit self. I have drifted from the commitment to my health. As I look forward I know that I can find my way back to healthy eating, mindfulness and consistent yoga practice. I am excited to rediscover the confidence, calm, peace and strength that I believe truly define fitness.  

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my happiest self. I am committing to prioritize things that bring joy. I often allow myself to get bogged down in the “business” of life and overlook the joy. I will be fully present and enjoy time with family and friends. I will reflect, pray and slow down to ensure that everything forward is filled with happiness.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my bravest self. I will take advantage of all opportunities for learning and growth. I will embrace situations that push me outside of my comfort zone. I will listen to learn and not avoid difficult conversations. I will allow my true north to guide me forward and lean into the courage this provides me.

2019 will be a year of happily moving forward!

blogging

Recommit

As often happens with things that challenge us, we have allowed ourselves to slip a little in our commitments to writing and sharing our thinking. A new calendar year is a perfect time to recommit.

In an effort to add more voices and encourage colleagues in their writing journey, we have grown our writing group. We are excited to share more perspectives on education.

We look forward to your feedback as you think beside us.

Reflection · Teaching

The Emotional Labor of Teaching

I first heard the term “emotional labor” when I read an NPR article about how women in heterosexual couples end up completing not only the majority of chores in a household, but they are the ones who often notice and delegate what needs to be done (Harper’s Bazaar also has a great explanation of this). I was reminded of this article last month when talking to my mom, and realized that this idea of emotional labor is what tends to tax teachers so heavily.

As I neared the end of the school year, I kept thinking about this idea. How even though I was not doing an exorbitant amount of work — I was in the last unit of the year, so I didn’t have much planning, and grading was light since students were mostly working in book clubs — but I felt so incredibly tired all the time. What was going on?

Thinking back to the idea of emotional labor, I realized that had to be it. The buildup of nine months of constantly thinking, worrying, and caring about the 125+ kids in my care was taking its toll, along with a few other end of the year worries. I was still trying hard to reach those students who had been pushing me away or meeting me with indifference all year. I was trying to make sure all students were really making some modern day connections to the Civil Rights Movement through their book clubs choices. I was stressing about not being there on the last day of school (and not getting to say a final goodbye) because I would be judging a writing tournament out of town. I was anxious about getting my room packed up since I would be moving to a new one in the fall. I wanted all of my students to know that regardless of how the year went, I truly wished them well in high school and hoped that they could take some of what they learned from my class with them. That I wanted them to succeed. That they still have people who cared about them.

All of these emotions would repeat on a constant cycle over the last few weeks of school. I tried to maximize my time before school and during my planning period. What could I pack up? What could I get rid of? Which students did I need to check in with during study center? Whose parents did I need to contact because they hadn’t turned anything in lately and currently had below a 73%? Had I tried my best this year? I definitely didn’t do my best teaching this year. This thought cycle was exhausting. It reminded me of that line in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Hermione describes Cho’s mixed emotions about Harry, and Ron says, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”

By the time I got home every day, I would feel too tired to make dinner or work out, even though I would usually push through and get it done. I thought part of my lack of energy was because I ran a really hard, really hilly half marathon at the beginning of May that just wiped me out. Even though that was probably part of it, I knew the main culprit was really the emotional labor of closing out the school year. Even as I write this more than a week after school let out, I am exhausted still thinking about it.

When most people think of teachers, they think of how great it is that we get summers off. (Side note: we all know that most teachers spend time in the summer taking classes or participating in professional development; some even working another job.) After reflecting on this connection between emotional labor and teaching, I feel like I am finally starting to articulate why this summer break is so crucial to teachers, and why we keep coming back for it year after year.

Summer gives us a chance to rest our minds. We still think about those kids who sat in our classroom over the last year, but since we don’t see them each day, we have a chance to worry a little less about them. To entrust that the other adults in their lives are taking care of them, and as they get older, they are taking care of themselves.

Once we have a chance to rest our minds and (hopefully) let go of the worries from the past school year, we have a chance to read and plan for the next year like we never have time for during the actual school year. I try so hard each school year to read professional books while I am actively teaching my class — and I usually fail. Unless I will be using that book immediately in my teaching, it is really hard for me to compartmentalize new ideas in the “save for later” section of my brain while I have all of the normal parts of teaching running at full speed. Summer is the time when I can finally dive into professional learning and make the most of it.

I am not saying that other jobs are not challenging and those professionals may need extended breaks as well. From my experience as a teacher though, there is so much of that emotional labor that we are constantly holding in our minds that it is often hard for us to shut it off. I find myself thinking about students as I’m out for a run, or how I can tweak that new lesson as I’m falling asleep at night. I know I often feel like I am not doing enough for the kids that I teach. There is this notion that I can always do better, but in the chase for perfection, I know it is impossible to teach every kid in the way that I want. To give them the true attention they deserve. When there are more than a hundred of them on my mind each day, it feels like the work is never-ending.

And that takes a toll on teachers. This constant thought process that what we do could always be better is great for reflective growth, but if you’re like me, then you just look at all the things that went wrong. I am working on changing that mindset, but it is a process. All of these pressures coming from so many different angles really can be exhausting — and a big reason why it seems that emotional labor affects teachers more than most other professions.

As I begin this new school year with only a month under my belt, I am already feeling the force of this emotional labor. I have nearly 20 more students in my care this year, many with differing needs, and I am still figuring out how to make time for each of them. I am currently working on finding ways to make this easier — asking for help, surrounding myself with positive, supportive colleagues, and taking breaks for my own self-care. It’s no wonder why so many teachers burn out early in their careers; it’s a lot to handle. But when I am my best self, I know I can do it by relying on those around me, and continuing to take time for myself.

Community · Culture · Teacher Leadership

Better Because of My Champions

 

People who will nourish you and help you love this crazy complicated, exhilarating pursuit.
Happy to be at school every day!

These two statements have appeared in my recent reading and they have prompted me to stop and think … I LOVE this very important work that we as educators do every day. I love the relationships I develop with the amazing young people who enter our schools every day. But I am reminded that we must NEVER discount the relationships we build with the adults who are on this journey with us.

I am better (a better educator and more importantly a better person) because of these amazing, kind, curious people. These people have taught me to:

  1. Listen without judgement. This is hard! I have very strong opinions about what good instruction is, about how we should talk to and about learners, about our ultimate mission as educators… Those in “my balcony” help me recognize that these beliefs define my core, but can sometimes cause a bias that I have to work very hard to put aside in order for me to truly hear.
  2. Be honest and humble. I am extremely lucky and my tribe is full of absolute rock stars! My thinking is pushed through conversation with these colleagues and I learn from them all of the time. But each of these rock stars is reflective and a true learner who wants to get better every day. They have shown me the true meaning of humility.
  3. Lead by example. Whether leading a building, a school district, a classroom or a learning activity my people lead with grace and kindness. From them I have learned that people always come first!
  4. Embrace new opportunity. Wow! I think this is the most important thing I have learned and the thing I am most grateful for. The educators around me have encouraged me to try new things (ie. paddleboard yoga) and share my learning with a wider audience than I would have ever thought possible (ie. this blog). These opportunities have revealed parts of myself I didn’t know were there.
  5. Ask for help. No one has all of the answers and the sooner we realize this the better off we are and the more we can learn; being an educator (and life in general) is hard … knowing there are people willing to help is a true blessing.
  6. Question. It is not good to be surrounded by people who always agree with you. They either are not being honest, or you are missing out on important ideas and new learning. My chamopins are always willing to ask the hard questions and to push back on my crazy ideas. Who knows what I would have stepped in without their “have you thought about this” conversations.
  7. Honor and celebrate. We celebrate the successes of others and honor the slip-ups that happen as opportunities for growth. This has forever changed my mindset and made be a better person!
  8. Breathe and enjoy the ride. In my younger years I was a bit, let’s say, high strung. I hate to admit, but I often engaged in complaining and wallowing in frustrations. This absolutely was not helpful or productive. My champions help me to take a breathe, remember it isn’t always going to be perfect, and remind me to enjoy the messiness of learning and growing.
  9. Be patient. Anything worth having takes time (and may not follow the timeline you developed in your head). The “when” is very important!
  10. Never lose sight of the goal. This past spring was very hard for me – I have never heard “no” so many times in my professional life. But each of these nos was followed by words of encouragement and reminders to never give up, to always do my best and to never stop advocating for the best possible educational system. Exactly what I needed to hear!

Who are your champions? As we start this new school year I challenge you to let them know how much they matter and how grateful you are for them.

 

Leading · Teacher Leadership

To change or not to change…

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. – Barack Obama

The past few months have brought about a lot of change in my life. I’ve gotten through almost 48 years with not a lot of that. I think I could safely say (before April) that I was not a person who embraced change. Oh, every once in a while I change my hair color or I try a new radio station…but I couldn’t be characterized as a mover or a shaker. I’ve branched out to become a yoga teacher, but other than that, I taught at the same school for 19 years, been married to the same wonderful guy for 22 years, typically vacationed in the same three places, and have the layout of my Kroger burned into my memory.

Personally, my life is about to change as my older daughter heads off to college this fall. This spring brought a lot of “lasts” – last spring break as a whole family, last prom, last time walking through the doors of her school, and last hug as a high school student. I feel like I’ve handled these changes well – probably because my daughter is ready.  But still I’ve wondered what it will be like when she leaves. Will she miss us? Will college be everything that she wants and dreams of? Will this change be a positive one for her? I’ve tried to remain relatively calm as these “lasts” happened and as our lives as a family of four change.

Professionally, I am making a big change as well. I’ve packed all of my belongings from the school where I taught for 19 years. I’m embarking on a new path that will take me out of my classroom and into the classrooms of other language arts teachers across the district as a literacy coach.

If you would have told me that I would be on this path four months ago, I would have told you that you were crazy. I had a great gig teaching 8th grade language arts with three people that I enjoyed working with and had a fantastic professional learning partnership with. My classroom was a place that I was proud of and had worked hard to make into a positive learning environment. My principal is an enviable instructional leader that I was so happy to work for and with. One colleague said I was crazy to leave and that he didn’t understand what was going through my mind – my school is an idyllic teaching situation.

So why did I decide to make the change? I don’t think it was peer pressure. I don’t think it was flattery, I don’t think it was “I’m going to prove to people that I can change” (ok, maybe a little bit of this if we’re talking about my husband).

At some point, after making lists of positives and negatives and after sitting in silent reflection for long periods of time, I decided that it was time for me to try something new. I love working with teenagers, but I also love working with adults. I would visit other classrooms once a week if I were allowed. There are so many smart, reflective teachers around the district that I will get to learn from every day. Hopefully, I will be able to impact more than the 120 students I saw on a daily basis last year. My professional learning and personal reading will be different which is exciting and challenging. Finally, my daughters both were cheerleaders for this position and told me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and to go for it.

Making the decision to change my career path for a few years felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders once I accepted the job. Up until I said “yes”, I felt unsure but all the second-guessing was gone when I made the call. Honestly, it wasn’t what I thought I was going to do, and I rebelled against the idea for some time. However, I am ready to move forward and see what the next school year brings for me and for my family.

 

**I wrote this piece during the #SWI18 in June while surrounded by other Dublin teachers. I’ve started my journey as a coach now and I’m sure will share more about that soon.

 

Classroom Libraries · co-teaching · Culture · Literacy · Reading · Reflection · Students · Teaching · Uncategorized

Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students

img_3133Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students 

Introduction

This year, I read both Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani and A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice by Kate Roberts, and these books inspired me to make huge changes. Most notably, Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I used these two texts to collaboratively make changes to our end-of-the-year unit surrounding The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

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A Novel Approach

Over the last few years, we have made some gradual changes away from whole-class required reads for many reasons, but The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has always remained a staple of our English I curriculum.

The Debate:

Whole-class texts: Independent reading:
“Believing in teaching whole-class texts–long or short–suggests the belief that struggle is productive for young readers, that kids that kids need to read great books, that focusing on a common text builds strong and literate reading communities, and that students benefit from controlled questions and activities led by a proficient reader (the teacher).” “Choosing to focus on independent reading shows the beliefs that reading ability matters, that kids are going to benefit most from having experiences with great books that they can read on their own with strength, and that knowing the skills it takes to read any book will help them to build greater independence. This also suggests a belief that choice in reading is essential in building a strong reading life and that often our very identities are in part shaped by the books we have read.”
Both excerpts are from Kate Roberts’ A Novel Approach: Whole Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice

I personally tend to value independent reading over whole-class novels, but Roberts’ book provided great reminders of the importance of mentor texts, shared experiences, and modeling. Plus, it merges the best of both worlds, so it gave me fresh ideas and new energy going into 4th quarter, the only quarter that I still teach a whole-class novel. For the last few years, I’ve tended to focus on all the negatives of whole-class novels and all the positives of independent reading, but Roberts’ merging of the two provides a unique balance that allows time for both types of instruction and celebrates both types of learning.

Empower

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Deb Maynard and I both took a course led by Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Kristy Venne (@KristyVenne) surrounding the book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I took photos of the pages that resonated with me the most.

 

With this in mind, PLUS the ideas presented in A Novel Approach, we ultimately decided NOT to get rid of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet altogether, but instead, keep Romeo and Juliet as a mentor text, teach the reading skills required to tackle such a challenging read, and help students apply those skills to their independent reading books.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 2.33.38 PMIn addition to allowing students to purposely pair choice novels to The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, we gave students choice in writing prompts, and students proposed summative celebrations of learning rather than us assigning and requiring the standard compare/contrast essay that we always have.

You can read more about how we introduced the new unit and unique expectations to students and families here.

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Throughout the unit, Deb and I read contemporary YA novels, too, and modeled all of the thinking and writing that we asked students to do.

We modeled thinking that we actually do when reading any book for any purpose since most of our students were reading different books than us and each other.

Taking the journey with students helped us to better know what skills were truly necessary, what work was especially hard, and what challenges most students would face.  

Critical Questions

1. What decisions are we making for students that they could make for themselves?
2. What changes should be made to inspire students to build independence and take ownership over their reading lives?
3. How can we make this shift:

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WHO – Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I co-teach English I all day (five 48-minute periods).  We worked together to make all of these changes to our teaching routines and strategies and to make changes to our unit expectations and assessments in order to empower students to take ownership over their reading lives. Hear more about WHAT and WHY here: 

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WATCH VIDEO HERE!

WHERE – Dublin Coffman High School, 9th grade, English I, inclusion

WHEN – 4th Quarter, 2018; The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Unit

HOW – surveys, flipgrid reflections, online discussions, observations

LIMITATIONS – It is difficult to quantify and calculate things such as empowerment, engagement, interest, and rigor, so we’ve had to rely on our observations, and have done our best to encourage students to be 100% honest in their survey responses and flipgrid reflections.

 

Because our unit in its entirety and our Action Research Project involve so many parts, I am going to break all of that info into multiple blog posts. Plus, we haven’t even finished reading Romeo and Juliet, and students are just now starting to work on their summative celebrations of learning, so stay tuned! More will be coming in a week or two, and I can’t wait to share!

Leading · Literacy · Reflection · Teacher Leadership

Staying Calm: The Dublin Literacy Conference

Friday, February 23

The day was almost here! This year, I was the Chairperson for the Dublin Literacy Conference. We had been working toward this day for months, and today was the day that I would really dig in with my co-chair, Marisa, and get all of the final details worked out. We met for breakfast and discussed what we needed to do for the day – we would get the participant packets organized and she would pick up two of our authors – Kate Roberts and Chris Barton – that afternoon when their flights got in.

Or so we thought.

Later that afternoon, as we were chipping away at the participant packets, we received notice that Kate Roberts’ flight was delayed. Okay, we thought, maybe she’ll still make her connecting flight. No big deal.

Then Chris Barton’s flight was delayed. We weren’t panicking just yet, but we were a little more on edge. He got on another flight set to land around 7 p.m. in Columbus, so we breathed a little more easily. He would miss our author dinner, but would make it for Saturday’s conference.

Soon after that, we learned that even with the delay, Kate made her connecting flight, and was on time for her arrival in Columbus. Marisa left to pick her up, and I kept working.

After another hour or so, I was finished with the preparations for the conference the next day, and I went home. On my drive, I debated whether or not I should go for a run, since I had about and hour and a half before I needed to leave for dinner.

As soon as I got home, however, everything changed. It turned out Kate was getting over the flu, so she wasn’t going to join us for dinner so she could rest up. Then I needed to head to the hotel where the authors were staying to give them some missing paperwork. With no authors planning to attend the dinner, we decided to cancel. I called our accommodations committee member, Aleia,  and set that plan in motion.

But wait! Chris Barton was going to make it by 6 p.m., so he could attend the dinner. I had to quickly call and reverse my previous request – the dinner was back on.

After that chaotic hour (needless to say, I didn’t get that run in), I headed out to dinner a little early to make sure everything was set with the restaurant. Our committee members started arriving, one of our presenters, Olivia Van Ledtje (@theLivBits), and her mother also joined us for this dinner. Marisa had picked up Chris from the airport, and they made it to the restaurant. Everything was running smoothly now.

…until we learned that George Couros’s first flight from Vancouver had been sitting on the runway for over an hour, waiting to be de-iced. We knew the weather wasn’t the best in parts of the United States, but we hadn’t accounted for snow storms in western Canada. George wasn’t going to make his connecting flight in Minneapolis, and couldn’t get out of there until the morning. This didn’t work for us, seeing as he was supposed to start his keynote the next morning around 8:45. We needed a new plan.

Could we Skype him in? Could he fly to another city a couple of hours away and someone could go pick him up? Could we switch our morning and afternoon keynotes? Linda Sue Park’s flight had been delayed, but she was still scheduled to arrive that evening. This seemed like our best option.

One of our committee members called Linda Sue at dinner that night, and she graciously accepted this change of schedule. Granting now that all flights arrived on time from here on out, we would be in good shape.

 

Saturday, February 24

As people arrived the next morning, we simply told them that the morning and afternoon keynotes had been switched, and no one even seemed to mind. Everyone was still going to get what they were promised, just in a different order. The committee kept joking that this whole process felt like a wedding – we would deal with mayhem behind the scenes, and our guests would be none the wiser.

And after all of that chaos, with all of our flexibility, the day went off without any other issues. Linda Sue gave a beautiful keynote in the morning, which inspired educators as they went off for a day of learning. George made it in time for his keynote and spent some time autographing through his scheduled lunch. Everyone was thrilled that they were able to experience so much, and learn from our authors and other presenters there. As a committee, we felt so grateful that our featured authors were incredibly flexible and enthusiastic throughout the day.

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Since the Dublin Literacy Conference a month ago, all I have heard was positive feedback. Everybody loved the day – the keynotes, the featured authors, the teacher presentations – everything learned was valuable and participants felt like they could use the skills and knowledge they learned in their classrooms the next day.

As for me, I learned a lot about staying calm under pressure and relying on a team to help out in any given situation. Though I was the Chairperson for the day, I could not have done anything without my amazing conference committee. They took care of details I didn’t even notice, and they helped keep me grounded when things seemed to be spiraling out of control. I am so proud of the work we did for that day because it seems have had such a positive impact on everyone who was there.

I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Uncategorized

Inspiration comes from unexpected places

Have I mentioned that for the last 15 years, I have been a math teacher?  I have lived and breathed mathematics education and it has led me to the beautiful world of leadership, where I am blessed to lead others.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend our district’s Literacy Conference.  You heard me right. LITERACY. It was AMAZING professional learning and inspiration.  I am not a reading or writing expert, yet as I sat in this conference, I soaked up so many ideas and strategies that will transfer perfectly to my work with teachers across curriculums.  This is proof, maybe even encouragement, that inspiration comes from the most unexpected places and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to learning within our own comfort zone.  

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Here are 4 reasons why we don’t need to look for subject specific PD all the time (Secondary teachers, take note and elementary teachers, come to math PD!)

 

  • Humanity comes first.  At the literacy conference, it was all about kids.  Students introduced the speakers, students shared their insight about reading and writing, students shared their technology knowledge with us, and students shared their writing and melodies.  In the words of Linda Sue Park, “You are arming our youth to save the world.  Readers, writers, and teachers coming together to help our youth.”  Educating our children is about saving the world.  Wowser. That was powerful.  And then @gcouros shared, “We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”  These powerful messages have so much to do with humanity and the impact we, as teachers, can have.
  • Learning is learning.  Yes, different content has different learning progressions and themes, but kids are kids.  This means that the way we learn is the same no matter what we are learning. Brain research supports this.  Motivation and engagement research supports this.  When we are thinking about the “best” ways to teach, we just need to focus on the desired outcome: learning & growth.  
  • Rigor crosses all curriculum. When we are working to stretch our students, we know that rigor is important.  When I read the definitions of rigor in Roberts’ DIY Literacy, it reminds me of the definitions that I see about mathematical rigor.  We achieve this through individualizing for students, through reflection, choice, and goal-setting among other things.
  • Learning is a result of engagement.  We know that learners grow the most when they are pushed to do most of the thinking.  Instructional models like workshop, PBL, and inquiry cross over to all content areas, because students are doing the thinking.  This was loud and clear at Dublin’s Literacy Conference.  We can engage students through ownership of learning.  We can conference with them to help guide learners.  We don’t need to tell them what they need to know.  We need to guide them to be curious so that they WANT to know.  How do you engage your students in an authentic way?

 

So, as I take my new (literacy) learning with me this week, I am calling it inspiration.  How can we push outside of our “worlds” to learn from the community, our students, our parents and experts from other areas to improve and move forward collectively?  How can we collaboratively improve teaching and learning?  We can do it.  It’s for our children.