Monday, July 16, 2018

Tick Tock...

Twelve days ago my superintendent posted this on Twitter:


What this means is that my brain begins to return to the classroom and my new students, even if my body isn't quite rested enough yet to do the same. And yet, registration began. I pulled up my new class lists and got excited to see some familiar names, sad that I didn't get to teach other kids I knew. It is the dance we do every July.

As I begin to think of the school year and getting ready, I also see fabulously decorated classrooms, fancy bulletin boards, gorgeous worksheets posted online. Each time, my heart sinks a bit. When I was in grad school back in 1997 I had a teacher named Barb Dress. She told us that our only job of "decorating" the classroom was to ensure the shell was ready for the kids to come in, but it was their room. No premade posters, no gorgeous bulletin boards, none of it. She said we needed to be working on the feeling that being part of our classroom community would give kids. How did we plan to build our classroom family? How would kids feel accepted? How would they know it was a safe place?

Last week I spent several days with former students. There were kids at my house to hang out with Luke and Liam, and they were there at all of Liam's basketball games. I thought of each of them, how some don't fit the "vision" for a model student, but how much I loved them and worried about them as they prepare to begin this next school year. I started thinking about community, belonging, why they had a successful year, or why they hadn't. And then, I thought of sports.

My boys have been a part of many sports teams over the years: soccer, flag football, basketball, football, swim team, baseball, cross country, and track. They had amazing experiences in all of them, but the ones that they still talk about are when the coaches elevated the team family over winning. Even in the more individual sports, the team comes first. In those teams, the family of the team is cultivated. Issues are not ignored, but addressed immediately. Team building is central to their time together, not an after thought. These are the teams that my boys have excelled when they were a part of. The seasons that they cannot wait to begin and are sad when they are done. These are the coaches my boys will work the hardest for day in, day out, all season (and off season) long.

I need to remember this in the classroom. Student learning is, of course, why I have a job. But the community, the family of our classroom, comes first. The kids need to know when they walk in our room that they are wanted and accepted here. That they might have had a bad experience in the past, but this year is their fresh start. I need to let all kids know that we lift our classmates up, never tear them down. Thirty-six days left. I cannot wait to get started. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reflecting on Teaching and Balance

My Wednesday morning yoga location.
Thursday and Friday of this week I'm going to be lucky enough to present to five groups of educators on a variety of topics. Through all of those presentations, one thing will remain the same, I want to leave them with gratitude. My gratitude to these teachers on the work they do. My gratitude to them for caring enough to get professional development during the summer when they could be with their families. My gratitude for fighting the good fight, caring about kids, and being a safe place for their students to land. I'm also leaving them with a word of caution...

Remember to always strive towards balance.

For years, my life was out of balance. I let my love of teaching consume me, consume all of my time. I grew to love writing, yet I only ever found time to write if it was about my classroom. I loved learning, so all of my free time was spent finding conferences to attend. I love children's books, but never found any time to read just for me. In everything I did, I looked for ways to use it to help me grow as an educator. Needless to say, this is not healthy for me.

To some, this might work fine. To that I say, more power to them. For me, I needed to find "me" again. The person I was beyond teaching. It reminded me of being a parent of a newborn. My identity was wrapped up in becoming a mom. Somehow, once my children didn't need me as much, my identity switched to that of a teacher. And I am a mom, and a teacher, but I needed to rediscover who I was beyond that.

Enter yoga. 
Enter dates with Chris. 
Enter time with my boys. 
Enter adventures with friends.
Enter writing a romance book. 
Heck, enter reading endless amounts romance books. 

2018 has been a year of discovery for me, and it has been hard, and it has also rocked. I'm grateful for it. I feel like my priorities are better in line with who I am than they have ever been. I'm still learning, still growing, but I'm getting there. 

As a result, I want to pay my gratitude for this year forward. Kristen Ashley is the writer of romance books that I credit for helping me on this journey. Reading her Rock Chicks series had me laughing and crying. It was a pleasure to read a book just for fun, with no need to find which kid I was going to hand it off to, no lesson to tie in, just read for the sake of reading. To thank her, and thank the amazing folks that read my blog and attend the sessions I'm giving at Scholastic and All Write's Summer Institute, I'm giving away six ebooks from Kristen Ashley. You pick the title, as long as it is by Ashley, I will send it to you. I will pick one winner from my blog, and one from each session I give. Enter on the form below. Winners will be selected on Monday, June 25th. 

Those of you in the classrooms and schools, thanks for all you do. This is a tough profession, but rewarding beyond belief. If you have time off this summer, please carve out time for you. You are worth it! 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Where Did the Time Go?


Goodness, I haven't blogged since May 10th! A lot has happened. Lacking the time and originality to write a lengthy post, I'll just do a recap here:

End of the School Year
Holy moly, the end of the year snuck up on me. Counting my two years teaching Kindergarten in a learning center, it was my twenty-second in the classroom. We wrapped up the year with my annual "purge the classroom library" day where I begged kids to take books to keep that weren't being circulated from my classroom. We talked about our favorite books, our favorite pieces of writing, and made summer plans.

On the last day, which was a shorter day, we watched The Greatest Showman and ate bagels. It's a rough life. While it seems like forever ago, today only marks the 21st day of summer. Crazy how much I miss those kids already.




Voices From the Middle
I'm part of a group that records podcasts for NCTE's Voices from the Middle. In May we got to record an episode with Jewell Parker Rhodes to discuss her amazing middle grade novel, Ghost Boys (Episode 33). Then four students read Cynthia Kodohata's fabulous middle grade book Checked and recorded an episode with her (Episode 34). They had a blast! You can check out those episodes HERE.

Kids
My boys are busy. Luke ran a special invite meet as a Freshman and got a PR for the mile, 4:36. Then the bad news came, stress fracture. So he's been out of running for six weeks and still has three more to go. Not easy when it is your favorite thing.
Needing to constantly tape his shin should have been a clue...
Liam began summer with a bang - chipping his front tooth at the pool, fainting at the pool, and braces. We're hoping that the rest of the summer remains calm. They will be in 10th and 8th grade next year, respectively.

Fiction Writing
I'm still plugging along!! I've reached 41,000 words. It is not easier, in fact it is likely harder the further I get. The idea of ever having this book published terrifies me. This is a romance book, so if I went that route I'd likely self-publish, but my inner editor, Helga, is not kind. Fortunately my friend, Cindy, took on the task of reading what I have so far and her kind words have helped. I still love my characters, Max and Emma, and I love creating their fictional world. 

Summer Conferences
One week from today I'll be presenting at the Scholastic Summit in Chicago. Then, next Friday, I'll be at the All Write/ Summer Institute conference presenting four times. I cannot wait! I wrote a blog post for the Summer Institute folks and it is up - you can read it HERE. And if you're coming to either conference, let me know! I'll love to say hello.

Thanks for bearing with me as my writing has been sporadic  I hope to get another post done before I take off next week. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Plastic in Our World


This post is part of an inquiry project my students are working on. We've been looking at our impact on the environment. Students are writing blogs and giving presentations on the area each has chosen to study. This post will serve as a mentor text blog post for my students. Thanks!

Two years ago my eyes were opened. A friend shared the video below about plastics in our environment and I began to wake up. Each year eight metric tons of plastics find their way to our oceans. Those pieces of plastic also make their way into us - through our water supply, the food we eat, and other items in our environment. As you can see in the video below, 93% of Americans have some trace of BPA in their bodies. BPA is a chemical that is used to make plastics. That is terrifying.

After watching Jeff's video, and others like it, I began to educate myself on the dangers of single use plastic. Items in this category include plastic grocery bags, which take over twenty years to break down in the ocean or landfills. Humans are purchasing an insane amount of beverages in plastic bottles, over one million bottles per minute, 91% of which are not recycled. This made me reexamine my own life and what my plastic consumption was like.

What I have found is that reducing your use of plastic is not easy. Whether it is in eating my normal string cheese, individually wrapped in plastic; grabbing a drink on a road trip; or even cleaning up after your dogs, we use plastic. What is important for all of us is to reduce the amount we use, recycle when we can, and make sure we get our trash where it is supposed to go.

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is making strides in this area. 

Thanks to education from their site and sites like it, I have worked to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. I use travel mugs and water bottles made from aluminum, have purchased biodegradable dog waste bags, and bring my own bags to the grocery store. I know I can do more, we all can, and I pledge to work to do so. What about you? What are you doing to help our planet - in regard to plastic or another issue that is impacting our world? What are you passionate about? Please share. Together I am certain we can make a difference.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Goodbye Jim

Jim and me, 1974
I tell you what, it has been a rough few weeks for my family. First, my Uncle Bobby passed away. I wrote about that HERE. Then, just over a week ago, my dad's cousin Jim passed. Jim was far too young, only sixty-six, but had been battling some health issues for a few years. 

I thought of Jim a lot this week while I taught. Jim was quiet, but had a lot to say if you talked to him on the side of a party. He would never be comfortable taking the center stage. Jim loved farming, animals, and helping out. Since he's passed so many friends have shared that they remember him as a good guy, willing to lend a hand. I remember telling a colleague at school years ago that I was related to Jim and she said she knew him, of course. That he always was willing to help out at the Knights of Columbus BBQ each year. 

I, like many, have my own memories of Jim. How he helped his mom in her later years without complaint. That he was an insane driver that scared me to death, but he still picked me up when I needed a ride home to the country in a crazy blizzard during my first years of teaching. (I counted my blessings that we didn't end up in a ditch.) And I remember Jim's love of dogs. He had Blackie and Whitey (no idea how he spelled them) as I grew up. When Chris and I moved to my grandma's farm before buying our own house, we got our first dog, Bally. She was an adorable golden retriever pup. I called Jim and his mom, my great aunt GG, once I brought her home. I'm not sure if they took off at a sprint, but they were walking through my backdoor within minutes, just so they could cuddle that dog. And I will always remember the stories of Jim and his dad, who we call Colonel, on the fishing trip. For a variety of reasons, they cannot be repeated here.
Jim and the crew on a fishing trip to Canada

As I sifted through these memories this week, I thought of the lessons Jim had taught me. That not everyone demands the spotlight, but to get to know those quieter people, you need to reach out, to meet them where they are. You are all the richer for having done so, they have a lot to teach us too. So, thanks to Jim, I made sure I did an extra sweep of my classes this week, chatted with all my students, not just the ones begging to speak. There are so many kids like Jim hiding in plain sight. I'm grateful to the reminder to see them too. 

Godspeed, Jim. The world was richer for you being here and we will sure miss you.
Jim with my Grandma

Thursday, May 3, 2018

It's All About the Books Blog Tour


I first met Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan several years ago when they wrote the fabulous book, Assessment in Perspective. Over the years I've caught up with them at conferences like All Write, NCTE, and NerdCamp Michigan. Each time I see them I'm struck by how smart they are, and how much they want to help teachers. When they shared they were writing their newest book, It's All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries that Inspire Readers, I was grateful. I didn't know of another book out there that would be a resource like this for those of us in the classroom. We need something like this book to share with our administrators, to show them the need for book rooms, classroom libraries, to share what they do for our kids. Tammy and Clare have written this book and it will not only help inform our decisions as we create these libraries, but it will also support us in our work.

Clare and Tammy's book is set up to help you from the ground up. It begins with research on why books are necessary for developing life long readers. There are chapters on choosing books, organinizing them, the inventory process, how to get the books, supporting your students in their book choice, and more. This book will be beneficial for teachers just starting out and veteran teachers who want to reflect and examine the way they have set up their classroom library. 

It's All About the Books covers every possible question of setting up classroom libraries and bookrooms. They look at what you can do with a variety of funding levels, how to manage a bookroom, and there are so many visuals throughout the book, you can't help but be inspired. But don't take my word for it, check it out yourself. Heinemann has graciously offered to give away a copy of Clare and Tammy's new book to one reader of this blog. If you'd like to enter, please fill out the Google Form below. I will select a winner by 11:00pm on Thursday, May 10th. Good luck! 


Monday, April 30, 2018

Lessons Learned from Writing Fiction

Inspiration for "Max",
taken from Jason Momoa's Instagram
Well, it has been a month. My writing challenge started back in March. I had written so sporadically in the past year that I made blogging a daily goal in March and I didn't miss a day. In April, my challenge changed. I have never really written a whole lot of fiction, so I thought I'd try that for the next thirty days. Since I've been reading a plethora of romance books, I figured why not try that genre. I had no idea where the challenge would go, how successful I'd be, or not, and thirty days later, here we are. 

I've learned a lot over this month. 

One, I can find time to write. I've written at track meets, in the car on the way to track meets, late at night, early in the morning, I've squeezed in the time. If I miss a day, it doesn't derail me. Our schedules have been insane this month. Typically we've averaged four track meets per week, which we usually go to from around 4 until 9. Liam has had a band concert or event once a week for the past four weeks. It has been crazy, but I've written. I wrote a note by my computer, no excuses. It has helped. 

Two, I need to take notes. Some people who write fiction can just write and remember everything as they go. I need notes. I finally got organized this weekend and went back and reread everything I've written, taking notes on what I've written about characters, locations, timeline, etc. It helped a ton.

Three, I need inspiration. I can't just dream up a character from scratch. I used actors to start, but gave them their own personality. Locations were based on places I knew, but then tweaked to become what I wanted them to be. Real life trickled into my writing, but then morphed into something else. 

Four, writing fiction is fun. I like to write, and non-fiction is pretty easy for me, but I enjoyed writing fiction. I want to write each day to see what my characters will do next. I have an inkling where I think this is going, but there have already been twists along the way and each one has surprised me. 

Five, I'm not stopping yet. As of today, after thirty days of writing, I've written 21,855 words. I kept track of my time and word count each day. Low word count days weren't bad, just what I needed on those days. Each day made me look forward to the next, which was a fabulous feeling. While almost 22,000 words is a lot, the average romance book averages around 80,000-90,000 words, so I have a ways to go.

I have no idea if this "book" will only be read by me, or if I will decide to one day share it. I know that my inner editor, Helga, likes to still tell me my writing is crap, but I'm better at ignoring her. This journey I'm on is what it is, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. So for May, and beyond, my writing challenge is simply to keep going. I do know that the longer I sit to write, the easier it is. Because of our schedules, most nights I only had 30 minutes. But when I can write longer, it is so much better. For that reason alone, I'm ready for summer. I'm excited to see what Max and Emma get up to next. 
My daily accountability

 
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