There Are Days…

There are days when I start writing and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. Today is one of those days.

There are days when I write in the morning and it’s early evening before I can get back to my writing. Today is one of those days.

There are says when life intrudes on carefully crafted plans. There are interruptions, meetings, meals to prepare. Or maybe it’s just time for a break. Today was one of those days.

There are days when I have so many ideas for my students that I want to talk about then with anyone that is willing to listen. Today was one of those days.

There are days when I’m excited about collaborating, rather than just planning with my team, and there is a difference.

When we collaborate there is a rush of excitement. Ideas flow back and forth. We are not constrained by curriculum documents, school mandates or new initiatives. When we collaborate we create something better than if we’d worked by ourselves.

Instead of the excitement of a project that we are hopeful will engage our students, we get mired in preparing documents intended for others eyes. Documents that we may or may not end up using.

If teachers had a greater sense of autonomy, we would be collaborating on projects and units to engage our students and enhance their learning.

There are days when I despair about the state of education, the world, and life in general. And, then there are days when I am hopeful that we can find our way out of a mess that we may not have created, but are responsible for maintaining.

There are days when writing helps me sort it all out or, at least, by writing I know that it needs sorting.

Today is one of those days.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

My Writing Life

Source: WordPress Free Photo Library
I am a member of the #Time2Write online writing workshop started by Jen Laffin at TeachWrite. We meet on Zoom at four designated times during the week. I try to participate in as many of the sessions as I can. Sometimes I can only make it once or twice.
Knowing that I can log in to Zoom and write with other teacher-writers several times a week has helped me to stay focused on my writing. I hear what others are working on and it helps me broaden my own writing. I take more risks and write more because I am part of a community of teacher-writers.
But what about the days I can’t join in on a #Time2Write session? Or the days when a writing session isn’t on the calendar? How can I keep the momentum going?
To address this issue, four of us from #Time2Write have started an accountability chat to check in with each other every day. Did you write today? What did you write?
Having a message pop up on my phone makes it harder for me to brush writing aside; I can’t let my group down. It’s peer pressure in the best possible way because it's organic and meaningful. It works!
In the past, I have tried different ways to develop a daily writing habit, such as putting a reminder on my phone, writing at the same time every day (usually first thing in the morning), and putting writing as an appointment on my calendar. But these strategies haven't worked for very long. Somehow, knowing that there are other people who are counting on me and cheering me on in my writing journey, can make all the difference in the world.
So, on the first day of this accountability experiment, I set my phone's timer for a 50 minute writing session. I journaled,  wrote a draft of this Slice of Life (#SOL) post, and revised a section of a writing project I am working on...and sticking to.
I also started to keep track of the writing I do every day. That way I can see the progress I make over time and affirm that I am indeed writing. In the same way that I keep track of what I read on @Goodreads and share pictures of book covers on my #Instagram feed, I am documenting my daily writing. For now this is for my eyes only, but maybe I will find a way to make it public to encourage others to keep writing.
How are you ensuring that you write every day? What has helped you stay accountable to your writing? Leave a comment so that we can support each other as teacher-writers.
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Another First Day of School

The days are starting to get cooler, but it’s not winter yet.

The days are inching towards September. August is over and done with.

It’s time for a new school year, but nothing will be the same.

My grade level team was in the school building this weekend, but I stayed home to read, write and rest. The work is never done, but we always think a few more hours will get us “ready” for the first day of school. I don’t blame my teammates; in years past I would be right there with them.

This will be my 35th first day of school, but I was on medical leave all of last year, so does that make it my 34th? Hmm.

But nothing in this first day of school will be the same. And, we’ve all accepted that fact, but we’re not happy.

I’m so tired of thinking about this pandemic and all it’s done to our lives, but still we push through. “We’re wired to do hard things,” someone famously said, but no one said it would be easy.

The uncertainty of what may happen is making this new school year feel surreal like we’re all waiting for something to go wrong and then we can say, “Told you so!” That would not be our best moment, but we are all struggling to make this time be OK. Is that even possible?

So, all 3 teacher work days are in the book. Today some students arrived, but not all students. The rest will come tomorrow and some have opted for the online learning hub.

My classroom was bare, sterile someone called it, except for 22 physically distanced student desks, but not really. How can that really happen in a school? The desks are in rows facing the white board or what would be the front of the room. Kids stay in their seats and the teacher is at the front of the room.

I know teachers will make this work. We always do. No matter what is thrown at us teachers hunker down and figure it out.

Now that students have arrived and my 35th (or 34th) first day of school is in the books, it will be easier to move forward because despite what some are saying, teachers want to teach their students in a classroom, but without feeling fearful for their safety.

Next Tuesday will offer another story to tell.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge

Summer Reading

What follows are images and a list of some of the books I read this summer or currently reading.

This is a stunning book and I use the word “stunning” deliberately. It made my heart soar; I was engulfed in a myriad of emotions. Next on my Elizabeth Acevedo list of books to read is The Poet X.
Austin Kleon is my new hero. This book is giving me courage to push through my fear a little bit more so that I can become a courageous teacher creator. Because I loved the ideas in this book so much, I immediately borrowed Show Your Work – another gem!
I wasn’t expecting to like this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Great story about finding your courage, uncovering corruption and becoming the best possible you along the way.
Great middle grades book. I know my students will like it. Lots to talk about with respect to friendships, unconventional families, and racial identity.
Detective novels are not usually my cup of tea, but this is a gem. I am looking forward to reading more books by this new-to-me Montreal author.
Haven’t yet read Dragon Hoops and Mañanaland; they are up next on my to read pile. I liked Not My Idea and am trying to figure out how to share it with my students when we start discussions around racism and white supremacy.
Powwow Summer was sooo good! Interwoven into the story about a girl who is trying to discover her identity on and off the reservation, are relevant pieces of information about First Nation rituals and beliefs. For example, I learned about Trust Circles, which reminded me of Restorative Justice.

In addition to the books listed above, this summer I also read Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, Start with Joy by Katie Egan Cunningham, Indian No More by Charlene Willing MacManis & Traci Sorell, On/Me by Francine Cunningham, and Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed.

I loved all of these books, which makes me wonder about the fact that I rarely abandon books. I’ve only abandoned two books that I can think of and one of them I went back to read at a later time and wondered why I ever set it aside in the first place. The second book I abandoned happened recently. This was a YA book that had gotten great reviews on social media, but for some reason I didn’t like the writing or the characters. I may pick it up to read again, but with so many great books out there I don’t have to worry about not having choices from which to make a selection.

This reminds me that I need to share these stories with my students so they can understand that we need to really love the books that we read and not read them just because someone recommended them or they’re the rave at the moment. While that may be, it may not be a book for us and with so many books out there…well, you get the picture.

Currently reading: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. Highly recommended!

And, finally, here’s a stack of picture books waiting to be read.

As summer comes to a close, I am thinking about how I am going to keep my reading life from falling apart. How I am going to keep my writing from becoming a once a week event. One idea I have is to make sure that I stick to a schedule that allows room for all of that. A schedule that prioritizes what’s important to me. A schedule that keeps me accountable and doesn’t let me undo everything I’ve worked so hard to do as a teacher who reads. As a teacher who writes.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Declutter to Make Space for What’s Truly Important

On Sunday, my husband and I spent most of the day cleaning and purging unwanted “stuff”.

It’s amazing how much you can accumulate over time. I was going to say “junk”, but it wasn’t junk when we acquired a lot of these things. It was what we needed or thought we needed at the time. Now, we don’t need or want these items anymore. We’ve made several donations to Goodwill and there are more to come.

We’ve been on this house cleaning/organizing project for the last couple of months. It was slow going at first, but then we picked up momentum and did a little bit every day or every few days. Some days we were discouraged at how much there was to do. Other days, it felt good to declutter and reorganize even a small section of our house.

This has gotten me thinking that when you open up physical spaces, it can also open up your mental and emotional spaces. Not so that you can fill these up with more stuff, but so that you can make room for what’s essential, meaningful and useful in your life.

As I think about the coming school year, I will be focusing on ways to eliminate what’s not valuable in order to make room for what is.

So, what does that mean exactly?

I plan to focus on meaningful learning goals rather than the bits and pieces we often agonize over in the classroom and later realize that it’s the big ideas that matter. Embedding the bits and pieces within the bigger ideas of a subject area make the learning more meaningful and longer lasting.

I plan to emphasize connections with students through meaningful formative assessment practices, such as conversations, one-on-one conferring, personalized interviews, and observations/kidwatching.

I will offer students many more choices for writing, reading and presenting their work. I want students to learn about topics and issues that are relevant to them. That inspire them to want to learn more and to share their learning in ways that make sense to them. That means that straight writing as a way of sharing will give way to make room for memes, comics, info graphics, images, and more.

I also want to be flexible and listen to what my students are telling me they need. Sometimes, we substitute expediency for the essence of things because we feel pressure to “cover” the curriculum. In our quest to make sure students aren’t “falling behind” we forget to listen and really see our students for who they are and what they are telling us they need in order to learn better.

So, making mental and physical spaces more open and less cluttered will allow room for new ideas to take root in our hearts and minds. Alternatively, we can mindfully dig deeper into the ideas that are already occupying these spaces so that we can experience joy and peace in our lives.

That is my hope for my students as well.

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Change the Channel – Take #2

 

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Image Courtesy of unsplash.com

My 15-year-old son, who has been visiting his sisters in the U.S., called me yesterday.

Our conversation went something like this:

I don’t feel well. I’ve had it! he said.

What do you mean? The mom in me started to worry. What was going on? Was he feeling sick? Did he have a fight with one of his sisters? What could possibly be wrong?

I’m done with this.

With what? I asked (calmly) trying to keep the edge out of my voice.

With the pandemic, he said.

I breathed a sigh of relief. OK. Nothing major. Or, at least, nothing new. If it’s the pandemic that he’s sick of, then I could deal with that. Aren’t we all just about done with the Coronavirus and 2020, in general? Well, yeah. Duh!

I want to go to school, he blurted out.

I want to go outside, he announced.

My heart hurt at that precise moment.

It’s hard, I told him. But whenever you catch yourself feeling this way, just do something different than what you’ve been doing up until that point. If you’ve been sitting, then get up and walk around. Or go out to the backyard. Maybe read a book. Eat something. Play with your niece. Just move around and change the channel.

Oh! That ubiquitous channel.

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This is hard. But we can get through it. We have to get through it.

We’re all stuck in a time warp of sorts. There’s nothing we can do to change the current reality, but we can figure out ways to not let it depress us or make us spiral out of control due to fear, and the seemingly unending nature of this thing.

This week the Public Health Officer of Canada said that we’re likely to be in a COVID19 mode for the next 2 – 3 years. Oy vey! Just that piece of news can make anyone feel despair. Yet, we can’t just stop everything we’re doing. At least, not entirely. Life was not meant to be put on pause indefinitely, although we have been in a weird slow version of it for months now. Nevertheless, we have to find ways to deal with the uncertainty and the fear.

We have to keep going. Make plans, even if they’re virtual. Get outside. Read books. Go to doctors’ appointments. Write. Find joy in everything you do. Stay connected with others.

Get up the next day and do it all over again.

I would love to hear how are you changing the channel on this pandemic.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

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Giving Myself Grace

Giving myself grace so I can continue to find joy in my life.

Giving myself grace even when I’m not feeling 100%.

Giving myself grace for those times when it would be easier to just sink down into that dark, deep void of nothingness.

Giving myself grace by focusing on what’s most important to me.

Giving myself grace by continuing to get up early, shower, and get dressed.

Giving myself grace by being present with my husband throughout the day.

Giving myself grace by continuing to write even when I just have no idea what I’m trying to say.

Giving myself grace because no one else can and then where will I be?

Giving myself grace so that I can make a difference to my students and others around me.

Giving myself grace to slow down and be grateful for all that life has given me.

Giving myself grace in spite of sometimes not giving myself grace.

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

Change the Channel

Change the channel.

Not the TV channel, silly.

But the channel inside your brain.

Oh, you didn’t know we have different channels in our heads?

Yep! So many channels.

Switch the off button on anxiety and fear

and discover peace and joy instead.

Sounds difficult, almost impossible to do, doesn’t it?

When I first heard about this strategy my first thought was: “Oh, not me. I am the Queen of Gloom and Doom. I don’t know how to be unless I’m practicing worst case scenarios in my head.”

How can I ever switch the channel from sadness to joy?

From fear to calmness and confidence?

But it’s easier to do than I thought.

It’s about acknowledging, and then letting go of, thoughts and feelings that block you from having a joyful life. Know it’s there and then release them.

If you open yourself up to the universe,

to it’s abundance,

to it’s joy,

to it’s perfection,

then you will find a way to switch the channel whenever life throws you a curve ball that you think you can’t handle.

But you can.

Life is full of curve balls and fast balls.

It’s how we choose to respond when they come flying at us that makes all the difference.

So, change the channel my friends.

 

 

This summer…

This summer…

I’m experimenting,

exploring,

and developing new habits.

Letting go of what doesn’t work,

and welcoming what does.

It takes practice,

and consistency.

Courage, even.

I’m experimenting with having a daily writing habit by creating daily results that are specific and measurable. Even though I don’t like the word measurable for many reasons, it really helps to have a concrete goal that you can…well..measure! (A nod to @msrachelhollis for this one.)

I’m experimenting with how to structure my time so that I’m more productive. I created an analog daily schedule that encapsulates what’s important to me and helps me keep track of my day. It’s still a work in progress as you can see below; I refine it based on my needs.

My Daily Schedule

My Daily Schedule – A Work in Progress

I’m exploring using a reading notebook. I ask my students to keep a reading response notebook even though I’ve never really kept one myself. Recently, I decided to do just that. I am keeping a list of the books I’m currently reading and the date that I finish them. I keep another list for books that others recommend and put their name beside the title. It helps provide context to the book when it comes from the library or in the mail and I can’t remember why it’s in my hands. LOL!

I also started writing a few entries in my reading notebook. What I’ve discovered is that I’m not writing in it every day. And, that’s OK. Sometimes I’ve written almost a page and other times less than that. These are things I want to remember as we head back to school in September: what makes sense to keep track of in a reading notebook and what is just busy work?

My Reading Notebook

Sample pages in my reading notebook

I am engaging in a guided journaling adventure. You can read about that here.

I am cleaning house, literally, by donating what we don’t need or use to make room for what we have decided to keep and, figuratively, by dispensing with unproductive and joyless habits and replacing them with self-care routines and mindful practices.

What have you been up to this summer?

Cross posted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

It Should Come As No Surprise

Note to the reader: Today’s call to slice was preceded by these two questions: What are the moments you are holding onto? and What are you letting go of today? I was upset while I was writing my slice but when I read these two questions I was able to calm down. I realized that I am in control of how I respond to problematic situations, in this case school re-entry in the fall. My blog post starts with anger and disbelief and ends with the only thing that will sustain me moving forward: HOPE


The province of Alberta had previously announced that on August 1st it would make public the school re-entry plan for the fall. Like most school boards and school districts in North America, the province was exploring three different scenarios: “near normal”  in-school return, a hybrid approach, and remote schooling.

Many of us had been waiting with bated breath to hear the final plans for school re-entry.

So, it should come as no surprise that the Ministry opted for scenario #1 given its openly hostile relationship to education.

It should come as no surprise that there are hardly any provisions to ensure that everyone stay as healthy as possible.

It should come as no surprise that the Minister of Education dodged the question about class size limits for the fall.

It should come as no surprise that this announcement comes on the heels of a spike in COVID-19 cases in our province and in other provinces in Canada.

It should come as no surprise that during the press conference teachers and other school staff were hardly mentioned in the re-entry plans.

In fact, it should come as no surprise that the province’s re-entry plan is really NO plan at all. (The lack of detail was a glaring and worrisome piece in the re-entry plan.)

It should come as no surprise that school staff will be responsible for monitoring student and staff symptoms. (No one know which staff this refers to exactly.)

It should come as no surprise that disinfecting surfaces will be done by…who knows?

It should come as no surprise that the press was told they couldn’t do any follow-up questions even though they tried.

It should come as no surprise that when asked what would happen if parents chose not to send their children to school the Premier spoke of “truancy laws” (“we have them”) and “homeschooling” (Alberta has an extensive home schooled population).

It should come as no surprise that many teachers are angry at not being heard or consulted about the school re-entry plan.

It should come as no surprise that I am feeling a little anxious and concerned.

I need to redirect my anger so I can channel it for my well-being, that of my family and for the sake of my students and their families.

I am hopeful – because what else can I be? – that my school board will provide more direction and specific guidelines than what we heard today from the Ministry of Education.

I am hopeful because my school board has a reputation of being upstanding and compassionate with teachers, students, parents and the community.

I am hopeful because, if not, I will fall into despair; I can’t let that happen so close to having come out of a very dark hole of depression.

I am hopeful.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.