February was a busy month. I felt like all I did was run from one thing to the next, but when I look back on my goals, I didn’t do too badly given that I work full-time and have two part-time jobs plus a “side hustle” as a one act play judge along with having a family!
Hit my move goal everyday of the month.
Log 6 workouts a week.
Run 50 miles.
Lose 5 pounds.
Hit a new PR on squat.
Scrapbook October 2018.
Reorganize the laundry room.
Create one art piece.
Write a monologue.
Mail 3 letters.
What I accomplished:
I didn’t hit my move goal everyday. I consciously choose to sit one day. I was tired.
I didn’t get 6 workouts a week, but I logged at least one workout all but 5 days of the month and finished with 27 workouts for 28 days.
I ran 52 miles, including one 1/2 marathon.
I gained and lost more than 5 pounds.. what can I say, I like a good roller coaster. But my net lost is a little over 1 lb for the month. More than that, the waist of my jeans is a little looser.
I don’t know if I hit a new PR on squat, but I’m lifting heavy. I love that.
I scrapbooked over 50 pages in February!
I didn’t necessarily reorganize the laundry room in a pretty decorating way, but I cleaned it up and put things in the cabinets. Yay!
I helped students develop a new art process by creating a miniature vinyl portrait. I didn’t keep it as I was using it for teaching, but I’d give myself credit for the task.
It’s been a couple of months since I blogged. Lots of happenings, too much to catch you up on for the most part, but I do have a really awesome update to my classroom.
First, I can say that shaking hands with students is a winner. It has been an amazingly easy transition.. except that it took about 2 months to feel normal to me. 🙂 Students responded immediately and now just expect that I will shake their hands everyday. So with this element in place, I felt comfortable adding a new piece of the “Capturing Kid’s Hearts” mindset, but I tweaked it to work in a fine arts environment!
This is the ambassador piece.. but I called it my Art Ambassador program.
After I welcomed all students into class today, I explained that I needed help with a few things in and around our room. I told the classes that I felt that it was wrong that the students in a class didn’t know each other’s names and that it’s hard to feel like your are on a team when you don’t know who is on that team!
So to that end, I wanted to invite students to take leadership roles in the classroom and that each week we would welcome a new ambassador who would shake everyone’s hands and say their names. I explained that shaking hands should be a natural and comfortable thing to do not just with a teacher or adult but with their peers.
The Art Ambassador will also be in charge of leading “Good Things” three times a week to start our class day. Why? Because as much as I want to lead “Good Things” and as much as I believe in the process, life and teaching get in the way of good intentions if there is no one keeping me accountable! So with students helping to keep us going and moving, I know that we can do it!
And finally, the Art Ambassador is responsible for welcoming guests in the classroom, for explaining to new people about our classroom and offering the new person an opportunity to sign our social contract.
And here is what I learned today. Quiet students who don’t necessarily get called on, were remembered. Students that have stories to tell, but are afraid to voice them did so. Students that had moved in late, had schedules changed or were otherwise “new” were given an opportunity to get acclimated and learn names.. and they smiled.
Bottom line. Asking for Art Ambassadors allowed me to ask for help from the students. I asked for leaders. I asked for accountability. I asked for teamwork.
And I got it.
I’m not a new teacher. I know that there will be bumps in the road. Heck, it wasn’t perfect by any means today. In one class, after three students gave very superficial “good things” I said that I realized that this class doesn’t trust each other with their hearts and that we have to work on being trustworthy friends and uphold our social contract better.
But my takeaway.. a quiet foster home student’s “good thing” that she barely whispered to the class.. that she is being adopted. Yeah. Gut check. We cheered for her.
My prayer is that I remember these moments of transparency and love and team and that I hold myself accountable and ask for my Art Ambassadors to lead the way.
I’ve never been comfortable with shaking hands. I guess it’s because girls aren’t taught to shake hands. I’ve always felt awkward and except for when meeting someone new in a business setting, I just haven’t ever been one to shake hands.
The school district I work in has implemented “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” and since going to training I’m a believer in what they are doing as they attempt to transform schools into positive environments.
As part of “CKH,” I was a happy to add social contracts and give more responsibility to the class managing their own behavior. I already did lots of stuff like that, so it was in my comfort zone. But shaking hands? Not so much. I was incredibly leery and cynical at first when it came to the need to shake student’s hands every day. I had fantastic reasons for why I couldn’t do it.
But, I’m an all in or all out kind of person, so I decided to just give it a try. If I didn’t see it as a good use of my time or students started acting up in the classroom while I was standing in the hallway, I could always go back to my old ways.
So for two weeks now I have been shaking hands with students as they enter my classroom.
And here is what I have learned.
It makes a difference.
I don’t know how. I don’t know why, but it makes a difference. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I have great classroom management and engagement, but there is a different vibe in my room after greeting students at the door and shaking their hands.
I’ve always greeted students by name when they entered my room, but I’ve always also been doing the twenty different things that need to be done before a new group comes in, so it’s been a distracted greeting at best.
Now, for those couple of seconds, as I clasp the student’s hand and say the student’s name, I give that student my undivided attention. I look at the student’s face. I look in their eyes if they are willing to look back at me, and I smile.
Maybe because I have to smile at almost 150 students a day in a personal greeting, but I have found myself smiling and laughing more. I still get incredibly frustrated at times, but more often than not, I’m able to find the humor in the craziness of high school students.
My student’s are happier.
Last year, my middle school age daughter said that her goal for school was the same as Mia Thermopolis’ “My expectation in life is to be invisible and I’m good at it.” I wonder how many students decide the same thing, not because they truly want to be invisible, but since they already feel that way, they decide that they might as well make that their expectation.
Well, when you stop and look in a student’s eyes, smile and call the student by name.. there is no hiding.
And what I am learning is that when student’s don’t feel forgotten or hidden, they are happier and they smile more as well!
Not having those 5 minutes to go to the restroom, return the phone call or prep for class makes things more challenging, but it is worth it. I’m committed to shaking hands with students.
And who knows, one of the best benefits may not be the connection I feel with the students, it may be that my students learn that shaking hands is a normal part of social interaction, no matter the gender!
The last few months have been a season of self-growth and self-reflection. I have found it to be an interesting and rewarding time. Not necessarily easy, but an incredibly worthwhile effort. After years and years of taking classes, earning degrees and becoming the best teacher that I can be, I decided that it was time just to focus on being the best ME that I could be. For an achiever and goal-oriented person, this was difficult as there is no measure of ME and for/against ME that I can use.
Along the way I read about the Enneagram Type Indicator. This test is a personality test, but it’s more than that. I really enjoyed taking the process. I took the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator online at the Enneagram Institute. I chose the long test as would by my norm. If you are going to do something, go all in!
My results overview were that I scored highest on The Challenger, then second was The Achiever, and third was The Enthusiast. No shock!
But what I really enjoyed reading was the report that came with the test. The report gave insight to my strengths and described me when I am at my best. It also talks about how I view and handle relationships, who I am most compatible with based on enneagram type and how I can work on all relationships from this framework.
One of the take-aways for me after reading the report is that I felt acknowledged. Yes, I know it’s a weird word to use for a generic report from an institute that has never met me, but yes, acknowledged! My frustrations with my job and career path isn’t a bad thing, nor does it mean that I’m not doing my job to my best of ability. What is means is that YES, I was created for more and I will feel frustrated and stifled as long as I am not being given opportunities for growth and leadership.
Oh how I wish organizations would use personality inventories like this to help make decisions about employees career opportunities and growth potential. After twenty years in public education, I can say without a doubt, if a type description like the Enneagram was used appropriately for job placement, everyone would benefit. Teachers like myself with challenger and achiever personalities would be given leadership roles and administrators with personalities that don’t lend themselves to leadership would be able to look at themselves and be able to overcome their weaknesses by creating the right team.
At the end of the day, I’ve been both in the right place and worked for people in the right place and have been in the wrong place and worked for people in the wrong place. What inspires me is about Enneagram is that I can look at myself and others in the wrong place and find ways to thrive despite the circumstance. I know that after reading the nine types, I am looking at others and myself from a place of understanding and not from frustration. And that is worth gold.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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
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. 🙂
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Expect to wait for a bus.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Ask to speak to the chef.
If 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!!
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!