What are you waiting for?

Today marks two months since I first made a goal to write every day. I cannot say that I wrote every single day…let’s get real, I’m a mom who works full time. But I have blogged most days.

Here are my learnings:

  • Sometimes I really have something to say that people need or want to hear. When I first started I wasn’t so sure I had anything to say that others would read.
  • The reflections that blogging has offered me has helped me improve and streamline my practice. As I begin to think about my new position, it is helping funnel down my thinking. My brain moves in any number of directions and it helps to pare it down.
  • While writing every day can be a challenge, I am beginning to develop a voice around my everyday thinking. It’s like we tell our student writers, sometimes the most powerful writing is about the small things in our everyday lives that we add power to. When we show the power of small moments, we live that ideal so our students can see it.
  • The fear of rejection for a long time was the thing that stopped me from blogging. I was afraid that people wouldn’t like what I have to say. They wouldn’t like my philosophy…they wouldn’t like me. Ultimately, the people who don’t like me or my philosophy or what I have to say most likely won’t follow my blog.
  • Being part of a community like #edblogaday is a powerful way to get started. When a person like Chris Crouch is sending prompts and retweeting your posts, there is a ton of power to keep on keepin’ on. Let’s face it, as scary as it is to post your thinking, it is equally as cool and awesome when someone likes what you have to say.
  • By placing my thoughts into the world I have met some really incredible people from everywhere. And another powerful piece is when I walk down the hallway of my school and teachers point to me and say something like, “I really like what you posted today.” or “I read your blog as I put my son to sleep each night.”

So…if you’re reading this blog and you haven’t started yourself…what are you waiting for?  You never know what you’re going to gain until you start.

How do you see your colleagues?

Next school year, I am changing my role. I will be our school’s instructional coach. This means big change both for myself and for my school. It alludes that the focus of our school will move from summative assessment to instructional practices and formative assessment. This does not mean summative assessment is not important, it is, it just means that we will deepen our focus. My job is to work with groups of teachers to improve student achievement.

This is all very exciting.

I am at the GAFE (Google Apps For Education) Summit this weekend in beautiful Breckenridge. I have learned a ton, but probably the most useful session I attended today was Rushton Hurley’s about Preparing a Staff for Major Change. He asked some really great questions that I think leaders forget to ask themselves:

  • How do you see the staff?
  • How do you speak to teachers? This says everything about what you feel is possible.
  • Do you see those you lead as problems to manage? OR Do you see them as change agents?

I really love these questions and I believe that too many times leaders in education forget to ask themselves these simple check ins. I hope that I can find ways to inspire teachers. I hope that I do not let the naysayers drag me down. I hope that we can make some powerful changes in our school because our students deserve to achieve beyond what they even think they can do.

Listening to My Self

Over the last year I have worked REALLY hard at listening to my body: its pain cues, it’s happiness cues, it’s anxiety cues. I am also a parent who does not immediately get involved in my daughter’s situations because I feel it is important for her to take care of her own struggles as much as she can. When I do get involved it is after tons of thought and reflection about my motivation to get involved. 

This week I made the decision, after listening to my daughter and paying attention to my own cues, to get involved with something an adult in her life was doing to several kids to put them in what I perceived as an unsafe situation. While I approached this person to try to handle it in person, this did not work and the behavior continued. So I emailed this person and their boss- not something I do lightly. 

But my baby’s safety was at risk, so after reflecting around the anxiety cues my body and my daughter sent, I felt it was necessary. 

Why is it so hard for me to do this? As a teacher I have been at the receiving end of unhappy emails. I have had parents angry with me. But that is not the point. 

How do we, teachers, react to unhappy or maybe even angry emails? Do we reply compassionately? Do we take time to move from the defense and really try to figure out the underlying problem?

So often when parents are angry at teachers, they are really frustrated with their kids. In the heat of the moment this is REALLY hard to remember. My practice has been to reflect on what the actual issue might be and then respond from that place. If I can’t figure it out on my own, I will make the call and listen carefully to whatever I can do to be helpful. 

What do you do?

Headstand Held

As my steady readers know, I have wanted to look like a cool kid at yoga since…well since I started doing it 20 years ago. By cool kid, I mean that I want to be able to do inversions, and I want to be able to do the twisty poses. While I am not able to do the twisty poses yet, I have been working on my inversions. Tonight I stayed after my class to practice…and I did it. I did a headstand three times, and was able to hold it.

Before I got it completely, this funny thing would happen. I would get to the top and then get so excited I was upside down and vertical that I would come out of it. It’s like I would do a little happy dance in my brain, so it wouldn’t allow me to stay the course.

Once I breathed into it, I was able to do it. Once I engaged my core and sort of let go of the outcome, I was able to do it.

This is a lot like my students this year. I had some students who were extremely tied to their grades. I had to be very careful that their skill level was tied to how they were doing in class. In reflecting about my year, I realized that in making the  grades align with their skills for this group made it worse in some ways. They worked for the grade, but did not move their thinking beyond the score they wanted in class. They did what they had to do to and no more. The interesting part? Their ACT scores we did in class at periodic times in the semester were flat. In short. they did not improve in the ways I would have liked to see.

However, my other class that was engaged and would debate topics out of the blue, and were passionate about what they were learning, scored on average 10 points higher on their tests. The lesson?

Those students who engaged in their core, in their learning process, were able to stay the course and improve their skills.

How does your bean sprout grow?

Remember in elementary school when your teacher had you take a bean, put it in some soil in a styrofoam cup, and in a few days, poof…it would germinate and sprout and become its own plant?

Don’t the best teachers do this for their learners? They plant a seed, maybe water it a little, and eventually it germinates and grows.

This happened to me recently with yoga. I have been practicing since I was in my 20s, but only sporadically. I have practiced consistently for the last six months or so, and recently have decided to commit to my practice to see where it leads me.

I took an inversion class a couple of months ago. I thought it might help me look like one of the cool kids in class. It might be fun to do handstands against the wall like I used to do as a little girl.

But I had no idea what this practice would do for me.

What my teacher, Amy Baker, did for me was plant that seed. She gave me not just something to help me look like a cool kid. She gave me curiosity. She gave me tools to tend my own soil. She gave me a way to break out of the routine of every day life. She taught me how to be safe, and she gave me tools to get better and stronger.

As I observe my best yoga teachers, I have realized they all do this. They give a seed, plant it, and then give tools to tend it. How amazing would it be if we could do this in our classrooms. Give our students a seed, develop an interest, and then give them tools to tend their curiosity.

What does your body tell you?

I am currently having an intense debate with my self. It goes something like this: I want to feel strong and in shape. I am afraid
of becoming fat and old and weak. I had back surgery two years ago; it’s called a foramenotemy, and it involved going in an scraping between vertebrae to make more room for the arthritis that had set in. It was pinching a nerve and made me lose power in my left leg.

Movement is essential to me. Anyone who knows me, know this one fact about me…I must move. So to be incapacitated for any amount of time is excruciating.  Anything I do that I used to do to stay in shape hurts me: skiing, cycling, Insanity, aerobics, running. I still do some of these activities, but most of the time I regret it afterwards. My back and my leg hurt from the spinal issues I have.

The only thing I can do right now without feeling pain is yoga. While I feel strong doing it, I am paranoid that I won’t get strong and feel skinny for the long term.

Here’s the thing: I have been very consistent with my yoga practice for the last six months. Today my husband told me I look good. He said he thinks I look as good as I did when I was killing myself on my bike. Weird, right? How can a practice of joy and opening create strength that others notice?

A year ago my physical therapist told me: You HAVE to start listening to your body. STOP trying to push through the pain. For you, pain is not a good thing.

I struggled for a long time as an athlete with this. As a youngster, I was taught to push through the pain. That pain will only make me stronger. But really, I’m not so sure any more. This view is making me see the world in a different way. It is making me see my classroom in a new way.

If I feel pain in my classroom, something is wrong. It is at this point I need to reflect and diagnose. It is when the pain starts, when there is just a nag that something is off that we teachers need to stop and figure out what is amiss.

My prescription for you? You HAVE to start listening to your students. STOP trying to push through the pain. For you, pain is not a good thing.

Whats your classroom’s sweet spot?

I just started reading The Sweet Spot by Christine Carter on the recommendation of one of my office mates. In in she presents a plan to hit that mental and physical place athletes call the flow in every day life. 

To work in the flow, for those of you who don’t know, is when you feel everything comes together, everything falls into place, time flies by and everything feels good. 

Carter’s premise is that in today’s go-go-go culture it is really difficult to hit the flow state because we don’t give ourselves the time or the space to hit it. In the book she offers some practical tips to help her readers hot a flow state in their daily lives. 

This book, though, is also making me think about school culture and what it does to our kids. My school works on 99 minute periods. Teachers are told to teach “bell to bell” meaning there is never a wasted moment. Students do activities that help them test better, makes them smarter, and ultimately makes them competitive post graduation. But at what cost?

How do we as teachers create the sweet spot for our students? If we allow brain breaks and some time to let go a little bit in class, how do we time this for our students to be most effective?

What I have noticed in my career is that the semesters that I am unrelenting in the activities and structured I hold my students to, they don’t do as well. But those years I treat them like the human beings they are, everything goes better- my students are happier, and surprisingly they test better too.

Always Wear Sunscreen

Today is graduation day for the seniors at Cherokee Trail. It is a lovely celebration and the last time I will see many of these students. Normally, my friend and I go to the pool, get some sun, eat cheeseburgers from our local favorite, Larkburger, shower at the gym, and head to graduation. But this year there is a haze over our city, and quite frankly it’s a really dreary day. So this year we will just go get burgers and head to the ceremony, sans sun kissed cheeks.

To see my students in their moment, in their transition is truly a gift.

In fact, this last week is my favorite as a teacher. Most people only know about the graduation ceremony as the moment of transition, but I know better. Our school has an assembly that I wrote about last week, where we see the seniors off. They walk out, crying, a little unsteady in their emotions; and then they show up today at graduation elated and completely joyful in the moment.

There is no sadness today of what they are leaving behind. This transition occurs over the course of this last week. It is truly beautiful to witness each year.

The movement from unsteady and unsure of what lies ahead to joy at what the future may hold for each person is truly beautiful.

Diving In

Today is the last day for my Writing Lab students to work on their blogs. During this last blog cycle they worked at adding details to their writing. One of my students, who is typically behind the rest of the class, had not turned her work in for editing on turnitin.com so I was getting worried. I sat down next to her to see what was happening for her and she said, “I’m trying to find more ways to describe the place I’m talking about in my blog. I really want my reader to understand what a special place it is.”

If that’s not taking audience and purpose into consideration, I don’t know what is.

To hear this student talk about audience and purpose and having a specific reason to add details other than the fact it’s a requirement is music to my ears. Oftentimes with students who struggle with writing, it can be difficult to know where to even begin. There’s so much to teach.

I really feel that giving them time and space just to write and think about the effect their writing might have on their reader can be one of the best tools we can give our students. I really think that sometimes we overcomplicate things so much that it keeps kids from diving in. That’s what I think has worked so well with having my students who struggle blog. They can dive in to writing in an authentic way each day.

After all, how do WE become better writers, better bloggers? We write and we get feedback from our audience. Why should we expect anything different from our students?