Transforming Education: Redesigning the Teacher’s Workflow

I’ve been teaching twenty years and in that time I have brought home thousands and thousands of pieces of paper, journals, sketchbooks, projects and everything imaginable to grade.

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I’ve spent car rides and weekends and nights and family vacations hauling student work too and from so that I could attempt to stay on top of the never ending grading.

But over the last year that has changed!! Yay for technology! And with the start of this school year, things are even better.

The district I work in went 1:1 with student devices last year. That means that every 7th -12th grader has an ipad assigned to them for school purposes. These devices are for the students to use everyday for the school year. Along with that, we are a Google for Education district and we use the full spectrum of G Suite Tools.

It is a game changer!!

I no longer bring bags full of student work home. I no longer have canvas bags devoted to class period after class period of journals/sketchbooks. I no longer have lost papers, no name papers and the myriad of other paper tracking problems!

Even better, with the use of Google Classroom, I can grade, give real feedback and motivate students in almost real time! No longer are students waiting days for me to grade their work. No longer are the students sketchbooks in my canvas jail of waiting papers.

It truly is amazing.

And today was one of the really cool days, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I graded and gave feedback on 300 sketchbook drawings TODAY. During classes.

Yes, 300.

In previous years that would have taken me days and would have required me to lug 150 sketchbooks home. And I wouldn’t have written notes… cause I don’t write on student’s artwork.. and it would have taken FOREVER.

IMG_7664But today, as I clicked on the image, I gave super simple feedback, put a grade in, clicked post and moved on in seconds. These are starter, beginning of the year sketchbooks. They don’t need a thesis from me.

But I also was able to give encouragement that I typically wouldn’t take time to give unless I just remembered to days or weeks later. I would have wanted too, but when you grade at 10pm, you just don’t have the same emotional or mental resources that you do at 9am.

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And I didn’t just give praise, that’s not who I am. My students would have wondered who was grading if I had! I gave specific feedback that would help as they completed their next drawings.

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And there you have it.

I know that many bemoan the technology takeover.. but hallelujah for simple things that help transform a teachers workflow. Because of technology, I can give better feedback to students. I can differentiate for the individual needs of students. Students can turn work in early and move on or later after receiving more help.. and NO ONE knows but the teacher and the student!

There is so much good happening in education right now.

My goal this year is to focus on the good.

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Equal Parts Pride and Sorrow

A couple of weeks ago we took Maddie to college. It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, she was ready. Yes, we knew it was coming. But still, it was harder than I imagined. Maybe because she is our first. Maybe because she has so many health challenges. But no matter, it was not easy.

Here she is at Texas Woman’s University. She moved in a day before the rest of the dorm because we had to thoroughly clean her room and we knew that with twenty floors of students moving in all at once, Maddie would not be able to navigate through the crowds nor have a place to park!

When we got upstairs to her room, there was a comedy of errors as the leadership was using her room for training (you know, since no one was moving in yet..) But they quickly cleared out and bonus for us, they now knew that she was there!

Maddie’s room is on the 4th floor and the view is incredible! I’m so thankful that she has big windows and looks out onto a green space and the chapel.IMG_8478

We cleaned and shopped and decorated her room. Every once in a while I’d just have to stop and take a deep breath. With every placement of a picture or decorative item, I knew we were one step closer to leaving.

 

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Maddie requested that we not cry at the dorm. So, we went out for ice cream before we left. Smart? Maybe. Or Big mistake. I’m not sure.

We really did okay.. until Kylie realized that it was time to go. Watching your baby say goodbye to her sister. Dang. That was brutal.

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And then Maddie had to turn and walk away in one direction and we turned and walked in the other direction to the car. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. No, I’m not being dramatic. It was that hard.

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Doug drove home and I cried. I wanted to turn around and go back for her. But we didn’t.

Maddie is doing great and making friends. So far, her health is good. My prayer is that she gets truly settled in school and has bonded with her professors before her first relapse. Not seeing her everyday is hard. I can’t look at her face and see how her body is holding up. I can’t hold her hand or touch her shoulder. I’m not there to offer a piece of pumpkin bread or run get her a snack.¬† It sucks.

And that is why sending my child off to college was equal parts pride and sorrow!

Embracing Vulnerability

I started teaching over 20 years ago and every year I start with huge goals and big dreams.

NOT THIS YEAR!

Why? Because, my philosophy of education and teaching has changed dramatically over the last year and I am going to go about teaching and mentoring and leading from a humanistic and empathic standpoint instead of a goal driven and data driven place.

And.

I’m tired.

And my students are tired. and beaten. and defeated.

I’d like to say that I had nothing to do with that. But the bottom line is that our deadline driven and mandated education has sucked the life out of students and teachers.

So this year, I’m fighting back!

And I’m starting with me.

This summer I have filled my soul with books by Brene’ Brown and Rachel Hollis. I’ve processed hurt and bitterness and despair. I’ve looked sorrow in the eyes and said that it doesn’t get to define me.

I’m embracing the exquisite torture of vulnerability.

I’m going to model this for my children and my students.

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And in doing so, I’m hoping that authentic learning and leading happens.

Yes, my expectations for my students will still be high. Yes, my expectations for myself will still tend to be unrealistic.

But I’m choosing to slow things down. I’m choosing to focus on smaller tasks. I’m choosing to (as Brene’ Brown describes) lean in to the uncomfortable space so that I can fly.

I know. All of this sounds rather vague. But how is this really going to be seen in my classroom and in my life?

Well, I’m focusing on SMALL TASKS that translate into COMPLETED PROJECTS!

My first one has been getting Back To School postcards out to 137 of my students!

In years past I would try to get personalized letters out to every student and family over the first few weeks of school and it was a beat down and often times I wouldn’t be able to complete the task. So instead of waiting until school started and life was insanely busy, I decided to go smaller and less personalized, but to just get the task completed!

And I did. 137 hand addressed postcards were mailed on Thursday.

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And it felt GOOD.

That’s the gift I want to give students the year. I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment when they have completed a smallish task. I want them to feel JOY! I want them to find pleasure in the everyday.

At the end of the year my students may not win as many competitions. Heck, they may not enter as many competitions. But I’m choosing to not care about winning. I’m choosing to stop worrying over competition deadlines. I’m choosing to turn my back on prestige and championships.

Instead I’m focusing on relationships. I’m focusing on hope. I’m focusing on hearts.

And that means I’m going against the grain and putting this out for public consumption is scary.

But personally, I’d rather be known as authentic and a little wacko than for be unwilling to learn and grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a leader.

So there you have it… my new mantra.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Brene’ Brown

Education’s Greatest Thief

Over the last two days I’ve had the opportunity to attend an incredible teacher training called iChampion Summit at Tarleton State University. The school district that I work for is a partner in presenting this conference and it truly is a worthwhile event! Heck if you attend, you could even see me present a workshop or two. ūüôā

The keynote speakers challenge and engage.

But this post isn’t about the incredible things that these speakers are asking us to do.

Instead, I am just going to be real for a minute and while some might label me an “awfulizer,” I’d tell Jimmy Casas (the really good keynote who had awfulizer as a slide..) that until we can talk about Education’s Greatest Thief, then we can’t really move forward.

And what is¬†Education’s Greatest Thief?

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Think about it.

We all have stories of bitter teachers. In all likelihood we have all commented on that bitter teacher and how he/she needed to retire ten years ago.

But have you ever stopped to wonder about the generations of bitter students, much less the teachers!!

And why do we have so many bitter people in and around education?

Because….

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Unfulfilled Expectations + Justified Disappointment = Bitterness

And in education we don’t talk about unfulfilled expectations nor do we acknowledge justified disappointments. We are just supposed to pretend that everything is fine and that leads to bitterness.

No! I’m not saying everyone is bitter.. but I am saying that until we are ready to have a conversation about the reality of education and the challenges that students and teachers face in the classroom on a daily basis, we will always have unfulfilled expectations and justified disappointment.

I feel so passionately about this, I’ve made a little video. If you feel so inclined, I ask you to watch my video and join the discussion.

And yes, I completely messed up the title of my new favorite book.. It’s called The Gifts of Imperfection.

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Comments appreciated. Haters not so much.

Tips for Families with Special Needs on Enjoying Disney World

Disney World is a place of magic and wonder. Sure, it’s also incredibly expensive and crowded and hot… but those things just don’t seem to matter when you are standing in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom!

There is something so incredible about being at Disney World and the feeling of expectation and fun and hope. I don’t know if everyone feels it, but as a family that has lived in the world of doctor visits, special diets and treatments, diagnostic tests and rare diseases for the last 18 years, Disney World gives us a chance to live and love and laugh “just like everyone else.”

No, the problems that we face everyday don’t vanish on Disney time. But the problems just don’t seem so big or so hard. Instead of researching unknowns and sitting for hours in doctor’s offices, we research which restaurant to eat at and how to get the most out of “magic hours.”

So here are a few tips for families with special challenges from a seasoned Disney family! Truly… we just returned from Disney for the 5th time in 6 years.

  1. Plan early!

    We typically use a travel agent (Cowboy Way Travel) because they know us and know our needs. But Disney online and over the phone work great as well. I’ve just found that for our needs (two connecting rooms with ground floor access and a scooter), the travel agent can take care of everything and it works.¬†And since we use a travel agent, we also purchase trip insurance. EVERY. TIME. It’s worth the cost.

    Also, by planning early you can make the best use of the early reservations for meals and fast passes. We are talking making plans 180 days out for dining and 60 for rides/attractions!! I know the needs of my family and waiting till the last minute to plan a trip means that you miss out on the best times for rides and meals.

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  2. It’s not an adjoining room.. it’s a CONNECTING room!

    Even as seasoned veterans, when we got to our rooms we found that we had rooms next door to each other, but not connecting! Uh Oh. This doesn’t work with an 8 year old! Disney defines adjoining as touching and adjacent as near by.. if you need the rooms to be able to open inside to each other, you need a CONNECTING room. Our rooms situation was easily remedied, but it’s an important distinction to keep in mind as at peak times you might not get a connecting room if you asked for an adjoining room!

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    Rooms at Riverside
  3. Speak up!!

    When you run into an issue, SPEAK UP! Give Disney a chance to fix the problem.
    One night when we ended up in a monsoon and the bus driver was horrible, we spoke up. Why? Because Disney cares and they work too hard for a bad experience to color the rest of the trip. Taking the time to talk calmly with the concierge allowed us to express our frustration and gave Disney the chance to make it a positive.

  4. If you need the disability access, USE IT!

    But, remember to take ALL of your family’s magic bands with you when you set up access at guest services. You only have to do this once each trip as the disability information is in the magic band. Also, once it is set up, any member of the party can “badge in” and request disability access to a ride/attraction. The key here is to manage your disability access as you can only have one outstanding at a time! The gift of disability access is that you don’t stand in line. It doesn’t make the wait go away, so plan accordingly! We know that we can’t wait in the heat/sun, so we go to shows while we wait for the next attraction.

    And if you haven’t seen Festival of the Lion King, it is WORTH IT!

  5. Plan down time.

    One of the hardest things for me to do is “waste” daylight at Disney, but I’ve learned that in order for Maddie to function for the duration of a trip, she has to have down time. So while the big girls napped, Kylie lived it up at the pool and the playground. Port Orleans Resort has great pools and a fantastic playground. Side note: besides being more spread out, Port Orleans is great for families as the rooms are larger, the place quieter and the amenities spot on.
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  6. Expect to wait for a bus.

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    Hands down, the most UNmagical thing about Disney is waiting for the bus to transport you from park to park or park to resort. If you are in a wheelchair or scooter, the wait can be a while as they only take one or two chairs on each bus. Sometimes these waits are in the rain and sometimes these waits can be an hour (or longer!). Plan for at least a 40 minute wait and then be pleasantly surprised every time you arrive at your hub and find a bus on its way in!

  7. Take your own ponchos and an extra pair of shoes!

    In case you didn’t know.. it rains in Florida. Plan on getting rained on.

    The ponchos at Disney are expensive and tear super easily. We purchase our own ponchos that are heavier plastic and bring them with us! Also, since Maddie uses a scooter, she gets a larger poncho that will fit over the scooter so that she can drive it and stay dryish.
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    Bring an extra pair of shoes.. or be like me and spend an hour sitting in the laundry room holding the door to the dryer closed with your back!
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  8. Find the accessible areas for watching the parades.

    Parades are really cool to watch. Unless you are in a scooter/wheelchair.¬† Find the accessible areas for watching the parades and take a seat on the curb. It was so fun to watch the girls watch the parade. We are big fans of the Fantasy Parade as it is at 3pm in the afternoon at Magic Kingdom and we can see that one. It just doesn’t matter how late of a start we get, we can’t make it to a firework or evening show as a family. When the sun goes down, my family fades fast.

  9. Ask to speak to the chef.

    IMG_2333If you have special dietary needs, Disney can’t be beat!

    We really wanted to eat at Be Our Guest.. I mean really, who doesn’t want to eat at Belle’s Castle?! But the menu options were not great for Lexi and Maddie who can’t have the normal breakfast items!¬† So we special ordered off the quick service menu and the chef came out and asked us a few questions and then like magic breakfasts for both girls appeared that were egg and milk free!¬† And it’s not just this one restaurant, it’s all of the Disney restaurants!!

  10. Make sure the other kids don’t get left out in the process.

With so much of what we do and who we are as a family focused on keeping Maddie well, our other girls get lost in the shuffle. Disney is a place for magic for them as we are able to devote special moments and memories for the girls by themselves.

Magic hours have become our special one-on-one times and are truly those magical memories that get us through some of the hard spots throughout the year.

Lexi and I stayed at Magic Kingdom until almost 2am one night!

And Kylie and I snuck away in the afternoon to Epcot one day and then Hollywood Studios one morning. Spending time with one child is so different than with the group!

I truly have so much more to say, but I’m thinking just this is overwhelming. So I’ll leave you with GO! Just Go for it. I know it’s expensive. But we spend SO MUCH MONEY on healthcare that we have to spend some on our emotional health and our family too.

I commented the other day to the girls and Doug that as we move into the next phase of our lives I don’t know that we will go to Disney as often. Lexi and Kylie were very quick to speak up and say that Yes, we will be back soon!

Dust from the Arena

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” but better known as “The Man In The Arena”¬† that he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on¬† April 23, 1910.

I’m sure you have read it or heard it quoted, but in case you haven’t…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It’s hard for me to read the quote and not get stirred up! I want live daring greatly! I guess you could say reading the biography of Theodore Roosevelt in fifth grade made an impact on my life!

To live life IN THE ARENA. That’s my goal.

And you know what?

There are times when living in the arena means that you get beat up and are covered in dust and sweat and blood.

This is where I find myself professionally. I’m in a season of living in the arena and I’m coming up short over and over again.

In my picture below, I’m on my way to my most recent round in the arena.

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And I lost again.

But you know what? I didn’t do anything wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

And that is why I’m writing this post.

When we are in the midst of the dust and sweat and blood inside the arena, all we can see is that we are being trampled and that once again we have to pick ourselves up. And no one wants to share that. No one wants to put themselves out there for ridicule or worse.

But here is what I have to say.

I am PROUD that I am standing in the arena taking the hits. I could have easily given up. I could pretend that I didn’t try. I could pretend that it doesn’t hurt like hell to be passed over again and again. I could pretend that my self confidence hasn’t taken a huge hit.

But I’m not.

Because I’m determined to live an authentic life and I want my daughters to see that life is about “great enthusiasms,” “the great devotions,”¬† and I truly believe that I’m spending¬† my time and efforts on a “worthy cause.”

So for any of you out there that know me in real-life… if you notice the dust on my face, I wouldn’t mind it if you helped wash it off. The dust is pretty thick in this arena and its getting hard to see….

My Imperfect Masterpiece

I FINALLY FINISHED the quilt that I started working on back in March.

I wanted to give up so many times. I even blogged about two months ago…¬†¬†Remember these pictures?

But I didn’t.

And I am so proud of myself!!

Through this process I was reminded that often in life we don’t have good instructions, we don’t have a real method and we don’t even know how things will end, but we have to just keep on moving forward.

And here is the finished quilt. It’s a good thing that I don’t have a son or a child with the initials JTC, or I’d be tempted to keep this masterpiece.

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The backing fabric that we wanted to use initially was to stretchy and the front was so heavy due to the appliqu√©s that I ended up using a set of microfiber sheets as the backing. The sheets are perfect…. super soft and cozy, but lightweight. The sheet material is the binding edge as well.

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The entire project was so much harder and so much more work than I realized when I said I would do the project.. and I won’t ever do anything like this again.

But I’m incredibly proud of the work, imperfect as it is, and am thrilled to be able to ship this keepsake off.

14th Annual Family Lakehouse Adventure

The 2018 Maxwell Lakehouse Adventure was in my opinion the best of the 14 we have had so far! I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my children are old enough to just play and enjoy their cousins and I can sit and observe them and am not constantly doing the mom thing. With all of my free time, I took 413 pictures from 4pm Friday to 4pm Sunday…. that’s a lot of pictures! I can’t help it, my family is rather engaging.

Here is a glimpse of our weekend at Cedar Creek Lake.

The overview

  • 23 people
  • 3 generations
  • Youngest child.. Jake at almost 5 months
  • One 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a perfect backyard, fantastic lake access and deep water.

 

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Our group picture is one of the highlights each year and this year with everyone wearing the shirts that Dad and I screenprinted made it even better!

The fishing was pretty bad. In fact, Kylie was the only one that caught a fish. But these “little middle” cousins are adorable!

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Jumping off the dock was an absolute highlight. With really deep water at the end of the dock, everyone could run and jump, twist, flop and cannonball to exhaustion.

Kylie and Nora both love tattoos. Uncle Mike allowed them to put as many tattoos on his back as they wanted. I don’t think he planned on them using entire sheets all at once… including the trademark information!! They had a ball. I love to hear their sweet giggles.

Lexi and Dillon, our “middles” bought fireworks with their own money and gave us a great firework show! We didn’t grow up around fireworks so I was leery, but they were great and with uncles and adult cousins around to supervise it, I was thrilled for Lexi to share in this new experience.

Lots of corn hole was played along with some badminton and other games.

The house came with three kayaks. This was PERFECT!!

And then there was baby Jake. Oh my. That boy is the sweetest and happiest baby ever.

There was so much more, but I’ve already made this a very slow loading post I’m sure! But I’ll end with a few pictures from my favorite spot… the chairs in the yard. The breeze, the family, the view of the lake and my family. It was great. My dad and I very much enjoyed our time in these chairs just watching those we love play and laugh together.

So until next year, I’ll leave you with one more picture of lakehouse #14.. cause #15 is going to be EPIC. ūüôā

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Rebuking the Lie

I am 44 years old and I have lived most of my life thinking that I am fat. The reality is that I’m not. Yes, I need to lose 15 pounds. But I’m fit. I’m healthy. I’m strong. I’ve been these things most of my life.

But the reality and the mind are not necessarily friends.

This weekend while sitting and talking with one of my sisters, she told us the story of rebuking a lie about herself and her parenting that had taken hold in her head. Last fall an incredibly mean-spirited person called her some ugly names and said she was a bad mom. She is NOT a bad mom. She is an INCREDIBLE mom. She is so thoughtful and consistent in her parenting. Even though she is still early in the parenting journey, I listen and learn from her all the time. The reality is that the person who said ugly things about her, didn’t know her and knew nothing about her parenting.. but the seed was planted and she realized that she had to rebuke the lie and claim freedom and grace and strength in the fact that she is a GOOD mom.

I listened to the story and was outraged and ready to go fight this nameless person. I was so mad on my sister’s behalf.

Last night after we got home and I was getting ready for bed, I realized that I have been struggling for YEARS with a lie that took hold in my head and has paralyzed me. Everyday when I look in the mirror and consider my food choices, in the back of my mind a little voice has said, “what does it matter, you are just a fat a** anyway..”¬† I was shocked. I realized for the first time in probably 30 years what was happening to me.

So this morning, I decided to do some research and look for physical proof that I have been a fat a** all of my life.

Here is what I found. I was not fat.

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Out of 44 years, I have three years where I was overweight and one year where I was very heavy. During the 2010-2012 years I had a very sick child where I took her to the doctor over fifty times each of those years… and I had a baby in 2009.¬† In June 2012 I realized what was happening and took control of my health.

To anyone else, I would have called out that lie that they were saying about themselves. I would have preached grace.

But for myself, I believed the lie.

So today, I am rebuking the lie that I was told so many years ago. Oh the power I gave someone else’s words. The careless words of others have wounded me daily for years.

And no more.

I am not fat.

Today I am embracing freedom and grace.

Today I am claiming my mental and emotional health back.

Today I am standing on the promise that I am created in God’s perfect image and that I am STRONG. I am HEALTHY. I am FIT!

Today, I rebuke the lie that I have allowed define me for all of these years.

No more.