Winterguard, bruised knees and a powerful performance

I love watching Maddie perform. So much of our life is defined by the limitations that are put on her, that when she is able to participate in LIFE with her peers, we celebrate!

One of Maddie’s passions is colorguard/ winterguard. Participating in an event that is so hard on her body is costly to her. The exhaustion, sore muscles and constant bruising is a high price to pay, but worth it because she loves the sport.

Maddie is on Stephenville High School’s winterguard team and they have their championship competition on Saturday. On Tuesday, they were able to perform for the student body. They performed beautifully and it is always wonderful for their peers to see the amazing things that they are able to do!


Are you willing to “Crucify your Baby?”

Hang around V21 and you will here…

“Are you ready to crucify your baby?”

“I’m ready to crucify my baby.”

Visitors and new students whip their heads around with a look of shock and horror on their faces. Then they turn and look at me incredulously. I just smile and say “Good!”


Yep, that’s how we do feedback in my art room. We acknowledge the fact that it is going to feel like someone is tearing your baby apart. And by giving it a name, we can laugh a little as we struggle to improve.

If you want to be a better artist,  you have to be willing to take hard criticism of your artwork. No one wants to find out that other people don’t like their creation.. their masterpiece! So in my art class, we have a saying for this difficult, but very necessary process. It’s called “crucifying your baby.”

New people to my world are horrified. Outsiders are uncomfortable. Students in other disciplines that find their way into my world for an extracurricular event are unnerved. But that’s okay. My students understand, and after the first encounter enjoy being part of the “club.”

Feedback with Colourful Comments Symbol

With that said, the crucifying comes with parameters, strict expectations and modeled behavior. I have learned over the years that the absolute best way to teach students how to take criticism of their work is to first require them to criticize mine!

For example, this painting of my daughter Lexi has lived in my classroom as a work in progress for over a year. As I work on it in class, I use the progression and development as an opportunity to teach students to discuss and comment critically about a piece. Just from glancing at it, I see every flaw and every incomplete area. But my goal is to teach students to look for those areas and to be able to communicate their thoughts and how they would fix the problem.


Early in the year, I start off by choosing a student to come up to my easel while the rest of the class watches. I tell the student about the piece and that I know there are problems. I point out a few areas that I don’t like that I need to fix and then I ask him/her what areas he/she saw that needed work.

My conversation starter is deliberate. In order to get students to see that I want the criticism, because I want to improve, I  have to show the student that I could see the problems and voice them as well.  By doing so, I model the example of how to state problem areas. If I get in a hurry and forgo this vulnerability with the students, then their criticism is superficial and their ability to take criticism often suffers.

In the end, while the “crucifying your baby” process sounds scary and is a memorable moment in the art room, students that want to improve get daily opportunities for feedback and quality criticism. On the flip side, students that don’t want to improve,  don’t. I used to force student to go around the room and take turns giving feedback, but I have learned that a student that doesn’t want to improve isn’t willing to take criticism and always has an excuse for why or what they did. So instead of forcing criticism, we now have a code phrase and students that are willing to embrace the opportunity thrive.

As an educator and an artist, I am always looking for ways to improve. I am always looking for ways to reach further and climb higher. I am willing to crucify my baby.

The question is, are you?


This blog post was part of the #Edublogsclub Prompt #11 on Giving Feedback.

College Planning for Your Chronically Ill Child

Parenting is hard. Parenting a chronically ill child is even harder. Add a rare disease or two to the mix and well, it’s tough. There are so many unanswered questions, so many scary decisions that have to be made, so many what if’s. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about parenting a chronically ill child. We have made a lot of mistakes and by the grace of God, a lot of good decisions.

One of the best books I read very early was Love and Logic’s  Parenting Children with Health Issues. The real life stories and scenarios were parallel to our world, especially when no one around us understood our struggles, had heard of her diagnosis and couldn’t fathom our heartache.


But now Maddie is a teenager, a junior in high school and we are looking at colleges. It feels like we are in unchartered territory.

Do a google search  that includes chronically ill and college planning and the results are limited at best. So, like everything else in Maddie’s life, it feels like we are once again on an island of the unknown trying to figure out what to do and where to go while we are already lost.

But, if the last 16 years have taught me anything, it is to research, research and research some more and keep a spreadsheet of my findings! So that’s what I did. Maddie, Doug and I have talked many times about what she wants to pursue as a career and we used her ideas as a starting point.

We came up with a set of criteria to measure the universities that we were interested in and added colleges as we found them. Besides the requirement of having a music degree, Maddie didn’t want to be too far from her doctors (or us), didn’t want a university that had a sprawling campus, she wanted small degree classes, options for her limited diet, and cost was a factor.

Below you can see a portion of the spreadsheet.

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Then last fall we started visiting schools and Maddie took the ACT. People were surprised that we were already so serious about college planning, but when your child is medically fragile, you don’t have the luxury of winging things.IMG_8230

On our first round of visits, we learned that the size of the campus was going to be a crucial factor in the ultimate decision of where Maddie would go to school. One campus was sprawling, one campus a little smaller but the classes would be back and forth and back and forth in different buildings all day, and one campus was incredibly beautiful.. but tons of stairs.


The ability to get around the campus easily knocked off some good contenders, but in order for Maddie to be the healthiest and most successful, she can’t put her body in a position to climb hills and stairs all day everyday.

During this time Maddie also was researching career options in music and came across Music Therapy. This was a light bulb moment for her. Music Therapy would use all of Maddie’s skills and talents AND life experiences! In choosing to narrow her career path even more, the college options changed and focused in again.

Instead of looking a dozens of universities, we were now looking at four that had music therapy degrees knowing that if none of these fit she could just major in music and get her master’s degree later.

In February, we scheduled a visit and met with an admissions representative at the university that is her first choice. (Texas Woman’s University)


It was a cold and rainy day, but the university felt right. Hallelujah! Everyone we met was so helpful and nice and encouraging!


Will Maddie go to this university? I don’t know. I think it is a definite probable. We still have to figure out some of the logistics like the need for a private room and things like that, but based on the criteria we came up with and the good vibes we got on campus, I’m hopeful.

So what have we learned so far?

  1. Create a criteria sheet (like a rubric used in school, creating criteria keeps the emotion in check).
  2. Start early. Schedule a college visit the fall of your Junior year if not before. Maddie had spent time on two different campuses during the summer at camps, so that gave us a head start.
  3. Take the ACT and/or SAT by the fall of your Junior year. By having test scores available when talking to the admissions representatives, we were able to have initial conversations about possible scholarships.
  4. Know your class rank and class size. GPA is good too, but it is the class rank that was important for our conversations about automatic acceptance into the different universities.
  5. Go on the tour!! I’m not a big fan of scheduled tours of any kind, but the walking tours with the campus representatives have been incredibly enlightening. At one university we walked the entire campus, but we only went inside a few of the buildings. Disappointing! At another university we met the university president while on the tour. Very cool! At the third university, we got to go in the buildings where Maddie’s classes would be and random students offered to help answer questions when the tour guide didn’t know much about the music program.
  6. Establish a contact with an admissions representative. Maddie contacted the admissions rep prior to the visit with some dual credit questions. The admissions rep remembered her and was very complementary about Maddie’s initiative and willingness to work hard to be ready for college.

Finally, my most important lesson is to look at the degree program and classes NOW.

Maddie’s chosen degree has her taking 18 or 19 hours each semester of college. There is absolutely no way that her body can handle that. When we discussed this with the admissions rep, it was suggested that Maddie take ALL of her core classes outside of the normal fall/spring class cycle and were encouraged to get as much of them done via dual credit and/or community college before arriving on campus her freshman year. With this in mind, prior to scheduling Maddie’s senior year of high school, we talked classes and put together scenarios over and over.

It was weeks of work. But we were able to rearrange her course load so that she will be able to take 12 hours each semester. This means that this summer, yes, the summer between her junior and senior year of high school, she will take 9 hours at the local community college. All 3 classes will go towards her college core and 2 will be used as dual credit for high school.  She will then take another 6 hours in the fall and 6 in the spring. So essentially, we are taking a 4 year program and backing it up into high school and making it a 6 year program. Given the availability of in-person and online dual credit classes, there is no reason to wait and retake a course later.

Getting your child ready for college and making decisions about careers is hard. But unlike the tests that Maddie is facing this week that required 9 vials of blood, these decisions are pretty basic in the grand scheme of things.

One of the lessons we have learned from having a fragile child
and having to fight for her everyday
is that we know that choosing the
“wrong” university or “wrong” degree path
isn’t life and death.

If all of our research, planning and preparation end up with her at a university that isn’t a good fit,then no worries, she can transfer elsewhere.

If only she could transfer away from her rare diseases and chronic illness.

Pop Culture Mystique

Popular Culture- #Edublogsclub Prompt 9

This post is part of the #edublogsclub- a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Prompt 9 is to write a post about using popular culture in the classroom. The prompt also offered some questions that I could use to jumpstart my thinking. They were:

  • What kind of popular culture do you bring into the classroom? How do you use it?
  • Do you have any comic books or graphic novel favorites that you use for reading and textual analysis? Why do you choose those?
  • What are your favorite television shows or movies in your classes? Why do you find these helpful tools?
  • Do you have any favorite songs that you bring into your classroom? How have students responded to your music? Why do you bring in these pieces?

My initial response was rather sad. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be referring to! So I did what everyone does.. I googled it.


And I got:


Now armed with a good definition, I can be part of conversation. While I may not personally be conversant in the current elements of “modern popular culture that is transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people, ” I do live and work with younger people every day. More than that, I talk with younger people.

So here is what I have to say about using pop culture to reach students. Yep, I know a lot of people who are really good at that. I’m not one of them. But unlike other areas where I have lots of teacher and mom guilt, this is NOT one of those areas.

  • I don’t watch movies.
  • I watch very little television. (Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper)
  • I read a lot, but only occasionally books that young adults read.
  • I listen to music, but again, not music that teenagers listen to.. unless they listen to broadway show tunes!
  • I facebook, instagram, use twitter occasionally and have but don’t use snapchat. But my student’s are not my friends or contacts on these social media platforms. And they shouldn’t be. Boundaries are necessary.

And you know what? I am very happy living in the land of the uncool and “out of touch.” My students are desperate for real conversations and meaningful relationships. My lack of understanding of pop culture doesn’t hinder our bond. My students don’t love me or hate me because of my relating to them about a movie or song. They love me or hate me as a direct result of my  words, actions and daily response to their real needs be it educational or emotional. I know for a fact that for some of my students, I am the only adult that listens to them. I am the only adult that talks WITH them. I am the only adult that speaks wisdom into their lives.

So, no. I’m not a cool teacher. But that’s okay. I remember having a few teachers as a teenager that were just cool. They had a beat on pop culture and could authentically talk to us and with us about the things we enjoyed. But I didn’t learn more about the subject matter because of their ability to engage with students about the latest movie. I learned the subject matter when it was taught well.

On the flip side, I also had teachers that were the very definition of uncool. My chemistry and physics teacher didn’t watch television and could not relate to students at all in terms of pop culture. But he was incredible. He knew me and what I was capable of. He pushed me to work harder and do more. He was the first math/science teacher that made me see that I was smart and could do the work.  He new his role of mentor could not be replaced and valued his work too much to focus on things that were fleeting.

In the end, I have to say that yes, there are times when I’d like to be the cool teacher or cool mom. But I’m not and if I were to suddenly use the slang that is used by students, start snapchating and talking in class about the current trends, it wouldn’t be authentic and my students (and children) would see right through the effort. So instead of trying to figure out how to fit in, I don’t. I don’t need to be. That’s not my role.