Sunday, September 9, 2018

Thinking About Motivation

It's the start of the year and I have a whole new group of students for the first time in three years. Moving from fifth to seventh grade in my district allowed the chance to reconnect for the past two school years with the majority of my former students. This year? This year has been a chance to start fresh. At the same time I cherish that feeling and despair because I'm getting to know so many readers all at once and, quite frankly, they're all over the place. This past week during my final class of the day I reflected on our time of independent reading to start the class. It's only ten minutes, but in the first ten days of the year so many of them didn't have the stamina to make it that ten minutes. On Thursday? Day eleven? The ten minutes flew. The room was silent, save for my conferences, and a few kids even groaned when I asked them to come to a stopping spot. I cheered internally. 

As we came together for the mini-lesson I pointed out what I had noticed. Wondering how honest we'd be this early in the year, I asked what had changed for them already. Hands shot up and their answers varied from: 

  • I hadn't read all summer
  • It was hot before
  • I like this book
Finally ending on...

  • You help me find good books 

  • It's easy to read in this room.
I groaned inwardly. See, I fear those last two responses because they make me, or the room, contingent for creating the desire to read. This happens each year - kids read an insane amount with me, but can I insure it happens when they leave me? Well, in twenty-two years, I haven't found the foolproof answer. Donalyn Miller writes about this in Reading in the Wild and through her suggestions, my kids being readers once they leave me has become more likely, but still not 100%.

I want 100%.

What I've come to realize is that I might not ever get 100%. Or maybe I'll lay the ground work, but another teacher will help that child get there. I need to be ok with that and move on. 

Internal motivation to me is so important. I work all year on reflection, goal setting, drive. I look at my students and know I need to teach them Language Arts, but I'm also constantly trying to help them become their best selves, to learn how to dig deep. Moving to middle school taught me that they are farther along their path and sometimes that scares me. 

I want to help them find the right path.

Lately I've been thinking about why kids push themselves. My boys are in Cross Country, as I may have mentioned a time or two. They've pushed through injury after injury, training in the early hours of the morning into the late hours of the evening. I think most sports are similar. What is different, however, is that when I go to their meets, the spectators are family members. That's it. There is not a student section rooting them on, the town isn't turning out to cheer for them. Family members - and not even grandparents, frequently. Mom, or Dad. Maybe a sibling or two. The kids don't get down about that, they aren't jealous of other sports. They succeed - and they are one of the most successful programs at our school - because it matters to them. The fact that most people in town have no idea what they've accomplished does not factor into their drive. They do this for themselves. 

They aren't alone. Luke recently went to a volleyball game. I asked who was in the crowd. Again, most spectators are family. Same for girls basketball, often true for track. I'd guess similar results for softball and baseball. So kids have the potential for internal motivation, right? How can we translate that into the classroom? I think about it all of the time.

Twenty-three years in and I don't have all of the answers. I think if a time ever comes that I believe I do, I should probably leave the profession because then I will have lost all reflective qualities that I know to be important. Until then, I'll keep striving for 100%. I'll keep buying books. (Sorry, Chris.) And I'll celebrate small successes like a student being on book four of Amulet in eleven days after telling me he hates reading. Small successes pave the way. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Building Relationships at the Start of the Year

Today was day two of our school year. In two days we've organized supplies, signed up for Google Classroom, created KidBlog accounts, read two picture books, had two book talks, and learned how to do attendance and Status of the Class. That isn't what really matters, though. It's the stories.
Yesterday I told stories. I told them who I was and what I valued. I talked about what I struggle with, including anxiety. I shared this slide with them and talked about ten things they needed to know about me. Then I asked them to write their name on an index card and share with me ten things I should know about them. It was enlightening. 

I read All Are Welcome yesterday and we talked about our classroom being a safe space in the school where they should all feel at home, feel safe. I shared that The Lightning Thief is one of my favorite books and told them how Riordan came up with the story. We talked about his son's struggle to feel successful at school with ADHD and dyslexia. I saw some nods.

Today I shared I Want My Hat Back and we laughed. I book talked Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy and several scribbled it on to their "to read" lists. Then I told them I wanted them to write a essay entitled Who Am I? that tells me what I need to know about them. To inspire them to tell their stories I shared that I had a video I wanted them to watch. I said it was about an actor that I have a crush on, but that my husband was ok with that. They laughed. None of them knew Jason Momoa's name, but when I said he was in Justice League, many shouted out Aquaman. I congratulated them on knowing me so well already that they could guess which actor it was.

We watched this video of Jason's that through the power of story, shares who he is with us. We let the words float over the classroom, then watched a bit again. This time we noted what we learned about Momoa from this movie. Then we jotted down what we wanted to share about ourselves. 

As they began their blogs, I walked around and helped. There were several who struggled to begin, knowing the feel they wanted, but not how to achieve it. We had reminders on some overall writing rules. Then, in my last class, I had them pause. I asked how many had writing come easy to them. A handful of kids raised their hands. Then I asked how many had an inner voice that told them that their writing was horrible. Hands tentatively shot up. I reminded them that I'm trying to write a book and I told them every day I sit to write, my inner voice tells me that my writing is no good. I shared that her name was Helga and I often tell her to go away, but she keeps returning. And then I shared the secret, that you just have to keep writing anyway.

As we wrapped up for the day, I continued walking around, rubbing shoulders, checking to see if I knew everyone's name. One of the kids came over to me to show his first paragraph and then said, "I can't wait to come back tomorrow." Kind words, sweet writers, relationship foundations being is going to be a good year.

Oh, and if you're ever having a bad day, watching Jason Momoa's Canvas of My Life multiple times throughout the day can make it a great one. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lessons from Being a Reader and a Writer

Twenty days until I'm back at school, twenty-two until the students return. This means that my brain starts examining everything around me for lessons that can be pulled into the classroom. And honestly, it's not hard. There are lessons everywhere.

I've always said it is easy to be a reading teacher because since I was young, I've always been a person who reads. Being a reader is so woven into my identity, I cannot imagine myself without it. It is what others identify with me too. Just this morning my kitchen was filled with four high school boys - they had gone on an early morning run for Cross Country with my son and come to our house to make pancakes. As I walked in and began talking to them, one (a former student) immediately pulled out his phone and began telling me about who his new favorite author was. It happens all the time. People in town will see me and ask for book recommendations. Former students delivering pizza to our house will confess they have't read for a few weeks and apologize. Former students come up at track meets and ask for what to read next. Being a reader is who I am.

I've not always been a writer. Actually, as a kid, it is what I fantasized about. Yet, years of having papers returned with blood red ink took their toll. Grammar rules and punctuation confounded me. I gave up. It was only in starting this blog that I found my writing voice again and slowly began to share. You wonderful folks that read it have been beyond kind and helped me find my wings to try this new fiction venture I've been at for the past few months. I'm learning.

Last year on July 23rd, I placed an Amazon order for my first romance book ever - Kristen Ashley's Breathe. I quickly found out that it was the fourth in the series, so I ordered more. In doing so, I never realized I was beginning something that would change the way I read and wrote. Here are some lessons I've learned over the past year, lessons I will bring into the classroom.

In regard to reading...

A Genre Rut Isn't Bad
Since last July I've purchased and read one hundred and seventy romance books. Good Lord. How often have I reminded my students to read outside of their favorite genre in the class? Quite a few. I never require it, but I often ask if they are bored. Well, I can say for certain that I'm not. And I'm reading, a lot. Most of these books run from 300-700 pages, so that alone adds up. But then, there is the other reading I'm doing - young adult, middle grade, picture books - I've read those too, just not in the volume I used to. Reading these romance books has made me laugh out loud more than once. I've connected to other friends who love the same genre, which has been wonderful. Sticking with a favorite genre has brought my joy, and I want my students to know that too.

Rereading and Skimming Favorites Brings Comfort
I remember presenting at a conference last summer and a teacher told me one of her colleagues didn't allowed books reread to "count." I'm guessing I looked at her with horrification written all over my face. I've always reread books. I know not everyone does, but it is what makes me calm. I can pinpoint certain books for certain time periods of my life. High school and college - I likely reread Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove over fifty times. When I was pregnant with Luke and Liam it was The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Now it's anything written by Kristen Ashley, but especially The Rock Chicks series - which I've read in its entirety four times since beginning them last summer. I've dealt with anxiety for years and rereading old favorites is like revisiting friends. When my heart is racing, I can pick up those books and I immediately calm down. Sometimes I just need to read a passage, sometimes the whole book, but it absolutely counts as reading. 

Friend Recommendations are Everything
Romance reading is a new genre for me and there is a ton out there, so recommendations are key. When I mentioned to a former student's mom last August that I had read a book by Kristen Ashley, she immediately began telling me to read Rock Chicks. My friends Cindy and Karen have given me recommendations as I leave them Voxer messages on a regular basis. Ditto to colleagues online and in real life, talking books adult to adult has become an even bigger part of my life in the past year. This is what I want for my students and I can model it in my own life. 

In regard to writing...

Finding Large Chunks of Time to Write Is Important
I started writing this fiction novel on April 1st. In the past one hundred twenty-one days, I've written 60,587 words. That seems both not enough and an unbelievable amount at the same time. What I've learned is that I can make time for writing, even when I'm busy. I've also discovered that large blocks of time work best for me because I can get into a flow and write so much more. That being said, stealing 15-30 minutes here and there if it is all I have is worth it to keep a habit going.

Write What You Know
My story takes place in a town of 10,000 people called Highland, located in Central Illinois. There is a beautiful park outside of town that the male protagonist, Max, works at. In town locations that factor into the story include: a pizza place, a brewery in an old barn, the middle school, the library, yoga, a cafe, etc. The female protagonist, Emma, works at the library and loves to read, especially romance and young adult books. Her best friend, Maggie, works as a language arts teacher at the middle school and loves Pearl Jam. My point is, if you know me in real life, you know how heavily influenced my story is on my own life. Not to the point that it is my story, it's not. But you can see elements of me in lots of it. You can see people I know, pets I have, phrases I use, favorite actors/ actresses/ bands/ songs/ etc. Inspiration is all around you, and to write, I have to use it. I need to teach my students this because they believe if the story doesn't pop in your head fully formed, they can't write it. Sometimes you just need to look around.

Keep a Notebook With You
Which brings me to this. I used to have a quote hanging in my classroom and wish it was still there because I don't remember it exactly or who said it. It was something like, writers don't lead more interesting lives, they live their lives with their eyes wide open. My life hasn't suddenly become more interesting because I write fiction, but man alive, story possibilities are everywhere. For example, I went to Meijer the other day to pick up some groceries. The store was dead and three cashiers were standing at one check-out. They were all around my age and began telling me about one of their boyfriends who didn't want them to dress in revealing clothes. The cashier had a lot to say about that and the conversation ended with all of our hands up in the air as she said, "If you've got it, flaunt it." I have no idea how it all happened, but I wrote it down.

My Inner Editor is Evil 
I call mine Helga and she's awful. She will pop up and tell me that I cannot write, that someday I really should figure out how to use commas appropriately, that no one would ever want to read this drivel, and so forth. I can't stand her. She grew from years of feedback as a kid where no one told me anything I did well as a writer, but every single thing I did wrong. To combat this for my students, I tell them about Helga. I tell them why she is in my head. And then I find something awesome about each one of their stories and talk about it. Hopefully one day Helga will go on a vacation and not come back, but I doubt it.

Sharing Your Writing is Scary
I think, before I ever began a blog, that I discounted how scary it was to share your writing. I wish I could apologize to all of my former students for that. The first person who saw my current story was Cindy. This week I sent it to Karen. To say it made me nervous would be an understatement - would they just confirm all of Helga's comments? Fortunately, they have not. It helped to ask for specific things in terms of feedback. It helped that they were ridiculously kind. This is an important note to remember in the classroom - the more that my students are invested in a piece, the more they've poured of themselves into their writing, the harder it will be to hear criticism back.

And so, my journey into reading romance books has had lasting consequences in my classroom. It has reminded me of lessons I shouldn't have forgotten, but did. And hopefully it will make me a better teacher to a new group of students in just a few weeks.

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.

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

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Summer Professional Development

Some of my favorite folks to learn with,
the Nerdy Book Club crew.
The other day I saw a former student in the local grocery store. He introduced me to his aunt as his former teacher. Her first comment was, "Ahh, teaching. I wish I had gone into that like I planned. Summers off with nothing to do must be nice." In twenty plus years of teaching, I've heard this refrain so many times. And yet, my summers - like most teachers - are never truly "off". Even in my first years of teaching, my mom trained me to pick one subject to study over the summer, to improve on. Each year I'd find a new one, read as much as I could, and start the new year determined to be better than I was the previous year.

Several years passed and I found myself with a plethora of workshops I could choose to attend in the summer. While I typically paid my own way to these conferences, the advantage of not having to create sub plans while I went off to learn was a huge draw. 

This summer I've already begun planning. I know I will be speaking at the Scholastic Summit in Chicago on Thursday, June 21st. This is my third year at the Summit and I'm constantly amazed at what a wonderful day of PD Scholastic pulls together. If you'd like to see if there will be a Summit in your area, you can check HERE.

I'm also thrilled to be presenting at the Summer Institute in Warsaw, Indiana on Friday, June 22nd. I began attending this conference years ago when it was called All Write. It brings back memories of friends, amazing presenters, and lots of learning packed into just a few days. I simply cannot wait. If you want to attend Summer Institute, register HERE

While I won't be attending this year, my oldest son will be turning sixteen, NerdCamp MI is one of the best conferences around. The conference is FREE. Yep, free. Two days of connections with colleagues, authors, and illustrators from all over. Register HERE

Finally, I'll be learning at home. A few colleagues from my building are diving into Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle's new book, 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents. I can't wait to read this with them over the summer days, discuss what we think we can apply in our classrooms, and grow as a learner. 

How about you? Do you have a plan for your learning this summer? Please share! And if you will be at Summer Institute or Scholastic's Chicago Summit, I hope to see you there. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

April Writing Challenge

So a week ago I wrapped up my March writing challenge, a blog post a day. I made it for all thirty-one days, even though there were many days that I really want to skip. I wondered why I had made the challenge in the first place. I wondered if anyone would even notice if I didn't write. 

I knew I'd notice.

I can't stick to a diet for anything, yet give me a writing challenge and I become a woman on a mission. Whatever.

At any rate, as I wrote last weekend, I talked to my friend Cindy last Saturday and said I was trying to figure out what to write for April. I confided that I wondered about trying fiction, maybe even something like a romance book since she and I were constantly reading new ones and discussing them. It wouldn't be that hard, right? 

Cut to Cindy looking up the average length of a romance novel...80,000-90,000 words. 

Holy crap.

But I decided to dive in. I put up some photos on a bulletin board in my bedroom, inspiration for my novel. My husband raised his eyebrow at me. I asked him who wouldn't want to look at Jason Momoa on a daily basis. 

I cleared a desk off, organized the reading nook in my bedroom, lamented that I couldn't buy an overstuffed chair that would be perfect to sit in to write. Glanced down at my yoga mat, reflected on the last time I'd actually been to a yoga class, and realized I was already off track. At that point I made a plan to check in with Cindy each day and share if I wrote for at least thirty minutes and what my current word count was.

On Sunday, I sat down to write.

Holy hell, it was hard. 

I had an idea for my male protagonist, inspired by Jason Momoa. I named him Max. The female was a struggle, but then Stana Katic popped in my brain. I think she's gorgeous, so I christened her Emma. Where did they live? How did they know each other? I started typing.

Seven days in, I haven't missed a day. I've roughly averaged a thousand words a day. I'm completely out of my element, have to tell my inner editor to shut up on a regular basis, and having a blast. Today I decided that maybe my inner editor's name is Helga and she truly is evil. 
Tonight's writing required a Fat Tire.
Writing a romance book is a trip. I tend to curse a lot in real life and in this? I let it fly. Haven't written any "romance" scenes yet. I might have to have several glasses of wine to get that accomplished, but I don't think I've laughed more when I've written than I have on this project. I love Max, I love Emma. I love Emma's friend Maggie even more, I wish she was real. I'd absolutely want to hang out with her.

As I write I'm falling more in love with writing, which is unexpected. I don't think I'm good at it necessarily  but I enjoy doing it. I like trying something that feels like a challenge, like I'm working my brain in a new way. My students know that I'm trying this challenge in April, and that they won't be able to read it, but they ask how it's going each day. They are certainly good cheerleaders and I can't wait to see where I am at the end of the month, if only so I can share with them that I did it. 

Seven days in, twenty-three to go. I can't wait to see where Max and Emma take me next. 
Day seven, done.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Next Writing Challenge

I was attempting to write everyday in March.
Today I've finished, 31 posts for 31 days.

February 28th I pondered the idea of doing a March writing challenge. I knew I couldn't do the official Slice of Life challenge on Two Writing Teachers. My life was crazy busy, writing posts were going to take up free time I didn't have. Trying to read a ton of other posts and comment would be next to impossible. Even trying to comment back to you fabulous folks on here has been a failure. Please know, I read every comment. I appreciate them more than I can tell you. Time is elusive and escapes me all too often. That being said, the challenge is complete. I'm so happy that I made this deal with myself and absolutely have seen a difference in my writing. It comes easier, ideas pop in my head all day, and while finding the time at the end of the day to write has been a struggle, the writing hasn't been. So, on to new challenges.

My friend Cindy and I talk each day. One of our favorite topic is what we're reading. As many of you know, since July I've been on a romance reading kick. I've been fascinated by my interest in this genre - I've never really read romance books before and I typically only read books for kids. That being said, I've found myself more and more drawn to reading these books, finding new authors when I read everything Kristen Ashley has written, learning about new topics because who knew that hockey players featured so heavily into many a romance series. What I'm more interested in, however, is how people see romance books and the people who read them. I've been told it isn't "real reading", that the writing is sub par, that I'm wasting my time, or just been given a look of judgement. Why is that? I should note, that these reactions are mainly coming from colleagues. My dearest hope is that they don't judge what their students are reading in the same way. Hopefully graphic novels and rereading of books are allowed in their classrooms, but I fear that they aren't. 

One day I will write the lessons I've gleaned from this new genre of reading, it would be a fun post. But for now, I wanted to share that this reading spree I've been on has inspired me to try fiction writing for the month of April. This will not be writing for my blog, but simply for me. Non-fiction writing comes easily to me - I can write about my day, parenting, teaching, etc. Fiction writing is difficult. Yet today, when I made the pact with Cindy to try and write for thirty minutes every day and report in to her, I got excited. I thought of some characters on the way to Champaign. I made a bulletin board an "inspiration board" in my bedroom by my desk. I sketched out several characters and an overall plot. It was a blast and I saw ideas everywhere I turned. 

So, let's see where this month takes me. I have no idea if it will be towards something real, or just writing for fun. I do know I'm beyond excited to try it and thrilled that I have my writing mojo back. And just because I'm writing for me, I hope to be blogging still at least once a week. So stick around, I'll keep you posted. And if you have any fiction writing recommendations, send them my way. I'm all ears. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Day of Nothing

I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 30 of 31.

Our Spring Break was not filled with trips to sunny beaches, warm destinations. There was no travel involved, other than to a town or two over. Our break involved track practices, dentist appointments, vet visits, and time with family. All important, all worthwhile. My only qualm was that I did not have any uninterrupted time at home, until today.

Friday stretched ahead of me today gloriously empty. Luke had practice, but he had a ride there and back. Liam was at a sleepover. I needed to run to the grocery store at some point, but it could wait. I woke and walked each dog a mile, feeling grateful that the rain had finally left and the sun was shining. On my walk, as I do each day, I talked to my listened to message from my friend Cindy on Voxer and left her some as well. 

Upon returning home I debated what to do. Looking at my email inbox, I knew I needed to do some scheduling work for Nerdy Book Club that I had put off for two weeks. Two and a half hours later, I was finally done and my inbox was dramatically better, though not at inbox zero yet. Cindy and I continued to leave messages on and off for each other, brainstorming projects and sharing weekend plans. After I was done, I curled up with my dogs and a book. 

I read on and off for several hours, talking to my boys, having pizza for lunch, and straightening up a bit around the house. In another message with Cindy we hit upon a writing challenge for April (I'll write more about that tomorrow) that necessitated a trip to Champaign and the purchase of a bulletin board. We talked more on and off as I ran errands, grabbed some food at the store for dinner, and drove the thirty miles home. 

Now it's early evening. Chris is home, kids that aren't mine are leaving the house, and I'm ready to cook some dinner and maybe have a Fat Tire to celebrate an amazing day of nothing, but one that was filled just the same.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Food is Love

I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 29 of 31.

The other day I was rereading a book from Kristen Ashley called Sweet Dreams. I got to this section:

I just had a similar conversation with Luke the other day. His friends were coming over to play D&D and I asked what I could make and he said everyone had to bring their own sacks. I looked at him and said, "You don't get it, I like cooking for you all. What can I make?" He grinned and asked for chocolate chip cookies. 

Tonight my parents came by for dinner. My dad had a birthday awhile back and we hadn't really had a chance to celebrate with his knee surgery and all. When thinking of what to make, I thought of what they love.

I made guacamole knowing how much my mom loves it.

Homemade pizza because that is a win for everyone, except Liam. (And he was gone anyway.) I use this dough. 

A fruit crostata because I can use any fruit we have, my dad loves it, AND it is one of the few desserts Luke will eat. (Recipe HERE)

I do believe that, once again, my romance books have an excellent lesson inside. Food might not be love, but making it for others absolutely is. And I don't think love is only found in the act of making it, but in the consideration of what dishes they would like to eat and remembering the stories that go with each. For example, I will never forget the first time I had guacamole. It was at my grandmother Mumsie's house. My mom and my Aunt Margaret were eating it. If they could have licked the bowl clean, they would have. I can see them sitting on the couch, laughing, munching on chips like it was yesterday. In reality, it was over twenty years ago. 

Tonight we sat down together, my mom putting salad on Luke's plate. My dad turned to Luke and told the story of my mom and dad, newly married, visiting the same restaurant over and over, trying to figure out how to make the salad. Going home, experimenting, heading back to try the salad again, determined to get it right. Food is love. Food contains stories, memories. And when you cook for those you love, it is something special indeed. 
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