Thursday, December 31, 2020

One Little Word 2021

It's ironic that the work I chose for 2020 was control

I can't remember a time when I've felt like things were so out of control in so many ways. Professionally, personally, everything was just off it's ever-loving rocker. But as I sit here and think about all of the ways things were ridiculously out of control, I'm realizing how true this word ended up being.

  • When thrust into the world of being an online teacher, I focused on what I could control and did the best I could. I 100% wasn't perfect, but I stayed connected with my kids and that's what's most important.
  • I took control of my physical health and exercised every day since March 14. 
  • I also took control of my physical and spiritual health by trying acupuncture! It's very fulfilling to be under the care of a former student - talk about full circle!
  • I took control of my emotional health by working with an AMAZING life coach who has helped me grow so much. Seriously - if you are considering working with somebody, Laura is your person.
  • I took control of my intellectual health by starting courses towards by second masters.
  • I couldn't spend the time with friends and family like I wanted to, but I consider that taking control because I am choosing to do my part to try to limit the spread of this stupid virus.
I'm pretty sure that there are more examples that I could list here, but I think they all fall under the umbrella of choosing to focus on my circle of control. Controlling what I can and just letting the rest go.

I could certainly lament on all of the things I enjoy that I didn't get to do this year: see friends, see family, listen to live music, go to shows and concerts, go out in general. And yes, it was a bummer that I didn't get to do those things. There are some people I miss terribly.

But instead I chose to be grateful for all of this things I have and could do: jobs for my husband and I that continued throughout the pandemic, a home to live in, utilities and food, the chance go on quiet walks with no technology, the opportunity to read more books (31.5 to be exact!), spend time with my puppies, and just slowing down.

In a year that seemed to out of control, my little word actually ended up being perfect.

What is to come in 2021?

I always spend a lot of time thinking about my little word to see which one really speaks to me. I've been thinking about a lot of them this year. Believe, authentic, worthy, confident, positive, and power are a few of the ones I have kept coming back to as I've been thinking. But I decided to go with one that goes along with control and also fits with all of these other words. That word is


Even when things are out of control, we always get to choose our weather and what we want to focus on. I want to continue to remember that I have the power to choose. I have the power to choose my thoughts, my feelings, my reactions, my actions. I have the power to choose my weather.

I'm choosing to go into 2021 feeling hopeful that things will get better and choosing to do what I can to make it so. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Cicadas' Song

Mother Nature has a pretty specific schedule for summer vacation. Long days filled with endless summer possibilities are ushered in by the lightning bugs in June, and then in late July and early August the cicadas begin singing their song.

The cicadas' song, which should be bittersweet because it's announcing the beginning of the end of those hazy, lazy summer days, is actually the exciting announcement about the potential of a new school year. It's like the best kind of New Year's Eve because you know that you have a hand in laying the foundation for an amazing school year.

The questions always fly through my head:

  • How will I change my room setup?
  • What will the new ideas I've learned mean for my students and their learning experiences?
  • What will my new students be like?
  • How can I use this new technology tool to engage my students and help them grow?
I'm sure you could add 50 more to this list. Perhaps it would be better to compare it to Christmas - there are so many gifts waiting to be opened that you don't even know where to start.

Those cicadas. They don't just usher in the end of summer. They proudly announce a new beginning. 

Never has THAT been more true than this summer. While I've started to hear the cicadas' sweet songs that signify the end of summer, I have no idea what beginning they are announcing. I suppose that is the beauty of Mother Nature. Time marches on. Her schedule stays the same. Summer must end. Temperatures will (eventually) begin to cool. The leaves will change. Whether we want it or not. Whether we are ready for it or not. Whether we LIKE it or not. Despite all of the craziness going on.

Time marches on.

I suppose my only choice is to go along for the ride and make the best of it.

And listen.

Because the cicadas are singing.  

Sunday, June 7, 2020

It Still Isn't Right

I had lots of high hopes for this school year. Two of the biggest were:

  • I really hoped to be blogging more consistently this school year to share the great things my teammates and I were doing.
  • I had really hoped to get back to my classroom before the end of the year.
Neither one happened. 

I was so SICK of being on the computer, I couldn't stand to be on it to type once my schoolwork was done for the day. While I was able to get back into my classroom, it was for a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes to get essentials and then to pack up for the summer. Definitely not what I had in mind.

People often say, "You teachers are so lucky because you have your summers off!" But what they don't realize is that while there is definitely some relief at the end of the school year, there is also grief. Saying goodbye to the kids, even the tough ones, is really hard. A little part of you goes with them, and that "family" that you had for the year is gone. And as silly as it seems, teachers lose part of their identity. So much of what we do during the school year is being a teacher, that it can be hard to remember who else you are and what else you need to or can do. I know I end up feeling lost the first few days of break. 

Often times, this end of year grief and feeling lost is easier to deal with. Antsy kids who are just ready to be free brings on that sense of relief that lessens the grief. Fun events like Field Day, assemblies, science outside, signing yearbooks, end of year picnics and parties, and other traditions add the final notes to mark the official closing of the year. Each of these steps helps your heart hurt a little bit less. They help you grieve and close the book on what was.

This year we didn't have any of that.

Instead we had a "Zoom Celebration Lunch" where we talked about the year and played "Would You Rather" as a group. It was so nice to see my kids' faces, and we had a wonderful time.

As happy as I am to be done with online learning, these past two days I have been struggling with an ending that, while nice, just wasn't quite right. For now I'll work through this latest ending, I'll figure out a new routine, I'll wait patiently to move to the "green" phase, and I'll desperately hope that this is not what my teaching will look like in August. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This is So Hard

People who don’t teach probably think that teaching is terribly hard. Standing up in front of 26 fourth graders and trying to get them to do what you want or need them to do? It seems impossible, but it's my normal. There’s a schedule, a routine, a sense of comfort and safety within the walls of a school, and especially within the walls of a classroom.

Some days teaching is amazing, and then other days teaching is HARD. Really hard. You can’t make the kids do what you want them to. You can’t  fix things for them or do things for them. But you can help them, and you can support them. You can let them know how much you care for and love them and want the best for them. You can have lunch with them, joke with them in the hallway, and share silly stories to help them forget the bad stuff for a few seconds.

Sure, teaching can be hard. But let me tell you what’s harder:

Not teaching.

Not being in school.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours. I honestly don’t know how people do it. I feel like I'm doing a million things but accomplishing nothing.

Having to see your kids and your coworkers and dear friends through a computer screen.

Knowing that you have to pass more responsibilities on to parents when they already have a ton of responsibilities on their plates.

Not being able to help when somebody need it or trying to provide that help from a distance.

Getting bombarded with emails and not knowing where to start.

Hearing your kids say, “I just want to go back to school.”

I understand the importance of the stay at home order, and I am doing my part. I am staying home. I am social distancing when I need to go out. I am washing my hands. I am 1/3 of the way to my 2020 book goal. I’ve started playing the clarinet again. I'm working on a puzzle. I’m exercising. I’m cooking healthy meals and drinking my water. I am thankful for the essential employees in all fields who are trying so hard to keep our society moving while trying to stay safe. My family and friends are healthy. 

I know I have a tremendous amount of things to be grateful for.

But that doesn’t make this situation any easier. My heart is still hurting for so many reasons.

So I will figure out this new way of teaching.

I will focus on what I can control.

And I will look forward to the day when I can go back and do my hard job the way it was meant to be done.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

One Little Word 2020

While my blogging continues to be sporadic at best, I'm choosing to revisit something that I started many years ago - picking a word that will guide me through the upcoming year.

I've picked a lot of important words since I stumbled upon this tradition: growth, opportunity, self, believe, and courage to name a few. They have helped me through some tough times, and they have helped me learn more about myself.

As I was thinking about this year's word, I recognize that, especially in my personal life, I am still struggling with feeling as though I am not good enough and that I am always making mistakes. I pondered making my word enough or confident to help me remember that I am good enough just the way I am and to help me remember that I should be confident with my decisions and my actions because nobody is perfect.

Those words spoke to me, but they didn't really hit the nail on the head for what I was feeling. I thought more about it, and I came up with the words accept and content. Maybe I should focus on accepting myself and things for how they are. Or maybe I should be content with who I am. Those two words kinda hit on feelings I was having, but they still didn't give me that, "Yes! That's the word!" feeling that I was looking for.

I let things simmer for a few more days, and I finally came up with my word for 2020:


Now, that might sound a little bit weird, but here's my thinking. In the past, I have tried to control EVERYTHING, and if I can't control something then I try to interpret the whys behind people's words and actions. I tend to "figure things out" (not really - but figured things out in my own, weird perspective that makes me appear to have messed up in some huge way), blow things way out of proportion, and cause myself all sorts of anxiety instead of just letting things be. Thanks to our 7 Habits training, I already know that the only thing that I'm in charge of is my own personal circle of control, so why not start back at the beginning with Habit 1: Be Proactive and focus on what I can control.

I choose control to help me remember to focus on what I can control, my thoughts and my actions, to remember that others should not have control over me - only I can control myself, and to remember that it's okay if I'm not in control of every situation. It's okay to just let things happen and see where this crazy ride takes me.

So, here's to you, 2020 - the year of focusing on the things I can control and not worrying myself about the rest.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Power of You

I'm sure you all get it when I say that some days are just hard. Especially afternoons, after recess, at the end of the week -- it just gets hard for everybody. We're tired. We've been working hard. We just need a break. How do we help those hard times get a little bit easier?

I did a little lesson with my classes that I like to call Problem Makers, Problem Solvers. First we sit down and brainstorm all of the different ways that kids can be problem makers at school, and then we brainstorm all the ways that we can think of that kids can be problem solvers. I'm not sure if I have helped more in the past or planted more ideas, but this year I had a startling realization. While both of my classes could come up with 50-60 different ways that kids could be problem makers, the problem solving list topped out at 17 for one class, and less than that for the other. How in the world can my kids be problem solvers, if they don't even realize what that looks like?

So I decided to spend more time on Habit 1: Be Proactive.

The first thing we talked about is our brains. Our brains don't want to be proactive. Our brains are naturally wired to be reactive: to fight, to run, or to hide. It takes a LOT of effort, even for adults, to be proactive, so we need to talk about it and practice it often and use reactive times as learning opportunities, not punishment opportunities.

After we talked about our brains, we talked about the messages we send to others. I have been interrupting class as we've worked on establishing our routines to say things like, "I'm getting the message that my words don't matter, and that's making me feel frustrated. Is that the message you want to send?" Almost always the kids say no (there is one who says yes, which is a challenge in and of itself), so we talk about what's going on and how we can improve.

The latest activity we did was called The Power of You. First, I had them share the things that teachers have done to them that they don't like. Their list included:

  • yelling at us
  • blaming us for something we didn't do
  • taking recess
  • giving me a checkmark
  • taking away Free Bear (our Day 6 free choice time)

We talked about how some of the items on the list, like yelling, are things that are in my control; if I'm yelling that means I'm being reactive, so that's something that is out of their circle of control - it's mine. I have to think about how I respond. Then we talked about the others. Many of them, like some on the list above, are consequences assigned to student misbehavior. We talked about the fact that every single student has the power, in themselves, to keep all of these things from happening by being proactive. By stopping, thinking, and making the right choice. By walking away. By asking for help instead of refusing to do work. By trying their best. The list went on and on.

We watched the clip from old school He-Man cartoons. You know, "I HAVE THE POWER!!!" and each student added, "I Have the Power" statements to their superhero pictures. They are hanging in the room as a reminder that we all have the power in us. Sometimes it's hard, and none of us are going to be perfect. But this is a great reminder that we can do it!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Round Peg Square Hole

I've talked at length about the great start to my school year last year, and I was truly excited to repeat the practice this year.

This. Year.

Last year, I took everything I wanted to accomplish in terms of routines, technology, and culture and scheduled them out so I could make a little progress in each area, each day. This year, with the expanded implementation of our Leader in Me program, we were asked to participate in something called The First 8 Days. This intensive introduction to the 8 habits of the Leader in Me program helps everybody in the school have a common language and sets the foundation for all of our kids having the opportunity to be leaders.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVE..... and I mean L-O-V-E this program. The 7 habits have absolutely helped me become a better teacher and, more importantly, a better person. But my awesome plan to start the year and the many different activities included in The First 8 Days just were not jiving.

It was like trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

As I was trying to do my weekly planning on Sunday I started to feel anxious and frustrated. There was so much that I had already done last year that I hadn't gotten to this year. There were so many things for the First 8 Days that I just hadn't covered. There was an email that a diagnostic test may have to be completed by 9/13. There was another email reminding us that homeroom teachers were to be giving our district benchmark. A pit was forming in my stomach. My amazing plan - my great start - it was crumbling before my eyes, and it felt awful.

And then I had another one of those a-ha moments. I'm sure it's nothing new to you.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

This Leader in Me kickoff? It was definitely worth doing well. And I KNOW how important my tech boot camps and routine building were last year. 

I don't need to cram them all together. 

I just need to take the time to do them well. 

I made the decision to simply do the First 8 Days, and if something else fits, great. If not, I'll start with my plan next week. The diagnostic? It'll get done. So will the benchmark. 

I only get one chance to really establish the culture and routines in my classroom. So I need to do it right. The round peg, it's going in the round hole. And the square peg is going in the square hole. And when I do finally get to start my curriculum, it's going to be another successful year thanks to all of the time we take to set up the expectations for working in our classroom.