August

The month of August is when teachers, in many places but not all, start the back-to-school countdown. If this is you, by this time of the year, you are probably gearing up to meet your new class of students or are participating in professional learning activities planned by your school or jurisdiction. And some, like me, are beginning to realize that the summer is almost over and that maybe we didn’t complete all those plans and goals we had from opening boxes from a recent move (still working on it, but making progress daily) to an intense month of working on a big project (I accomplished a lot more on the work needed to move ahead in my dissertation than I had anticipated). Whatever you did, it’s time to celebrate it.

Now, the stark reality of what being back at school entails is slowly settling in around me. Nevertheless, I am trying to do what my husband suggested when I lamented the end of summer: don’t stress about what’s coming up. Just enjoy the moment now so that you can be in the moment once you go back to work. I think these are wise words and I intend to follow them.

So, over the next few weeks, as my calendar starts to fill up, I will take each event as it comes. I will revel in the moment and follow through on what are becoming joyful routines for me this summer. I will continue to spend 10 minutes in the morning just writing in a stream of consciousness way before checking social media. So far, so good! I am on day #4 of this new plan and it is really helping to clear my mind and to stay away from social media first think in the morning. This morning writing is just what I need to work things out in my mind, to set a plan for the day, to name and explore mixed up feelings.

I know the first couple of weeks back to school, at least, will be an adjustment period for everyone as we move from vacation mode into school mode – continuing with new and old routines, recognizing and adapting to lack of flexible time, reestablishing a sensible sleep pattern. Nevertheless, I aim to take it slowly. To do as much as I can. And, especially to combine significant spurts of head work with exercising, watching another episode from a favorite series or simply talking with my husband.

I know that I tend to write similar posts to this one where I examine my habits, promise to do better and end up in the same place or worse than before. But, for some reason, this summer feels significantly different than others. It’s not that I have got it all figured out, but my level of productivity – reading, writing, exercising, eating better – has got me all fired up to continue these habits once school starts. Of course, I know everything will slow down, but I’m discovering that time is truly a relative construct. Ten minutes seems like nothing, but when you put on a timer (this really works!) and sit down to read or write, it amounts to a lot. These small moments have made a huge difference for me.

So, to those of you who are back at school, here’s wishing you the best year, yet.

To those of you that have already started teaching, enjoy your students; they depend on you.

And, to those who are getting ready to go back, I hope you slow down these last few days rather than rushing through them; you don’t want to miss out on important moments along the way.

And, as for me, I am definitely more than just a little bit excited about going back to school. Bring it on!

Crossposted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.

 

 

Two Changes for the Fall

At last night’s #TeachWrite monthly chat participants discussed ways to could keep a writing habit going when school starts up again in the fall. I know that for some of you, school has already started, but I’m still in summer mode. A couple of suggestions resonated with me and so I want to discuss them here. By making them public I am hoping that I will be more accountable to myself and my writing.

First, I will write before going to sleep or first thing in the morning. I don’t know about you, but I tend to check social media right before I go to bed and as soon as I wake up.

My phone doubles as an alarm clock.

I have a routine for checking social media. If I don’t have any new notifications on my WhatsApp chats, I immediately open up my personal email. Most days I end up deleting quite a few emails (some subscriptions are difficult to unsubscribe from!), and maybe end up reading just one or two emails, if that many. Typically, the rest of the emails sit in my inbox until I can get to them.

Then, I check FB. I go to my notifications. I read the ones that are immediately interesting and leave the rest for later. I might do a quick scroll to see what shows up on my feed, but not always.

Next, I go to Twitter and I repeat the same routine as with FB.

Finally, I check my university email.

At this point, I am a bit overwhelmed: I’ve filled my head with all the real and fake news that’s on social media and I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet!

So, my new plan is to have a small notebook and a pen on my nightstand. When I wake up in the morning, or right before I go to bed or both, instead of checking social media right away or at all, I will write for at least 10 minutes. Seems simple and clean, but because I’ve tried this before, I know how difficult it is to build a new habit. But I’m willing to give it a try. Starting a new habit may be a challenge, but what’s really difficult is staying with it until it sticks. When you’re in the middle part of developing a habit, it can get boring. The newness has worn off. If I can get past that, then I’ll be OK. I’m counting on my writing buddy and August writing group through #TeachWrite to keep me honest. Hint! Hint!

For as long as I have been doing writing workshop, I have been privy to the power of sharing. Students sharing with each other and the teacher sharing with students. Although I’ve shared my writing with my students on occasion, I have not done it consistently. That is changing this year. I have a student who is asking me to share my writing with him. He is relentless, but in a good way. Yet, I have been putting him off. I know. I know. It goes against everything I believe is important in writing workshop, yet I’m terrified to share my writing. With students and with other adults.

This summer I have committed to share more of my writing with others. To make my writing public. So far, so good. And, I know this step forward will have an as yet unknown but rippling effects on me as a writer.

Bring it on!

Crossposted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

 

Tuesday Slicing #1/many more – A New Start

I am a perfectionist and a rule follower. I need to know what is expected of me so that I can work within those parameters. Although I may deviate from some expectations or rules, I agonize over my decisions to do so.

You’re probably thinking: OMG! What a combination! Yes, it’s a lethal combination and causes a lot of anxiety when I let both of these sides of me run amok. Let me tell you, this is not a stress-free way to live!

I aim to do better.

This summer I planned to participate in Teachers Write, 100 words a day of summer writing, #cyberPD and so much more. I signed up for online workshops and book studies. I had it all figured out. I would have so much time at my disposal because it was summer. Oh, and I would also keep working on my theses. I think I forgot that part of the reason teachers have summers off is mostly to relax and, yes, to recharge and learn, but in ways that won’t tire us out even before the first day of school comes around.

Taking time off from anything related to school is a valuable pursuit during the summer.

And, you are probably also thinking: she’s crazy! Yep! And, I wouldn’t disagree. As is to be expected, I didn’t complete any of these projects and despite my usual modus operandi (feeling unaccomplished), I’ve decided to let them all go. I’m not going to retell the same old story of failure I continually tell myself when I miss beloved Twitter chats or I don’t participate in every online conversation, even though I’ve read the book, the article, seen the video, etc. Which brings me to an important awareness: it’s not about all the bells and whistles, sometimes even hoops, that are often part and parcel of online teacher professional learning opportunities that are important, although those infinitely enrich me as a teacher…when I am able to do them. What’s important are the take-aways afforded by these varied experiences and, more importantly I think, it’s about what I create as a result because I’ve noticed that I am doing a lot more consuming than producing and that just doesn’t feel right.

Balance – that’s what I crave. And consistency. And, the pleasurable feelings that come from completion and learning.

It is better to commit to a few online activities. To choose wisely. To stick to those commitments over time than it is to try to do it all at once.

So, my project for the month of August is to figure out which of these virtual events I want to continue to pursue and which I am just going to say no to so that I can produce more writing. Create more ideas. And feel successful and accomplished all at once.

That’s why I’m back to Tuesday slicing.

Let the fun begin.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesdays

Intentions

Today is Tuesday and typically I would be writing a blog post for the #SOL Tuesday challenge on the Two Writing Teachers blog site. But, over the last few weeks, probably more than that, I haven’t been able to write much of anything…or even read much of anything, for that matter. I have had a partial block as far as reading and writing goes. I consider myself an avid reader and an emerging writer. Actually, the bit about being an emerging writer is so new to me that I even hesitate to say this out loud. So, writing it down is that much easier. I even notice that when I reread this post, I whisper that phrase – emerging writer. Do you hear it? Soft as a the breeze.

So, as part of my trifecta of practices – actually, it’s more like a double trifecta since it’s more like six daily practices that I’m trying to build into solid habits instead of three, which would be enough of a challenge, but you know me, or maybe you don’t but now you will –  to practice self-compassion, I have put daily writing as one of them. I’m trying really hard not to be orthodox about this. Like if I wrote on 750 words this morning, then I’m done with my writing. Or, why didn’t I write on the 750 words site and then wrote somewhere else, like my blog, for example? So, you see where this is heading, right?

I am too rigid. Too much of a rule follower. Too hard on myself.

So, instead of making more goals that I may or may not stick to, I am declaring my intentions. (Hat tip to Angela Stockman.)

I intend to be more kind to myself.

I intent to be more forgiving of myself.

I intend to practice gratitude every day by acknowledging it, writing it down or simply declaring my gratitude to a significant person in my life.

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I intend to not put myself down, but instead to raise myself up thereby doing the same for everyone around me.

I intend to walk into my classroom and my house with a clean heart, an open mind and a loving heart.

Happy Tuesday Slice of Life everybody. And, thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting this challenge every Tuesday all year!

 

Restitution – #SOL18 March Challenge

Teachers make hundreds of decisions every day.

Some require some deliberation; most are split second decisions that may, nevertheless, have a lasting impact on students. I’m learning to say, “I’m not sure about that. Let me think about it and I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Or, “I don’t have enough information to answer your question. Let me think about it and we can talk tomorrow.”

I make many good decisions every day. But I also make some bad ones. I regret those bad decisions and try to find ways to make it up to whomever I feel I’ve wronged.

I have two to rectify tomorrow.

One is with a student who shared a “new strategy” for solving a math problem. I kept insisting he was just “creating an equation”. I need to listen to him and then honor his strategy by giving it a name so he can share it with his classmates. I know that by doing that I will be helping him build agency and self-confidence. I will also be building a more trusting relationship.

The other one is to welcome back a student who was absent all of last week. Because I wasn’t too pleased that he was gone for a week without a word I simply didn’t say anything to him today. I always make a point of noticing students who have been absent for illness, vacations or any other reason. I let my reaction get in the way of continuing to build a relationship with this child. I need to remind myself that this is not about me.

This is restitution. If I expect my students to “make it up” to someone else when they’ve wronged them, then I must do the same.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the March Slice of Life Challenge.

 

 

 

 

Work-Life Balance

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I have rarely been successful at finding a work-life balance.

I have a hard time turning off work so that I can enjoy my life more.

However, I am happy to report that I have gotten better about this over the last few years. I’m not sure what was the turning point or the event that forced this change to happen, but if I think about it a little bit, it was probably the year I had Frank (not his real name) in my classroom because I requested him.

Frank was the kid nobody wanted to deal with. He was the kind of student I thought I could save. Save from what? I’m not sure. Maybe from himself? Maybe I was trying to be a martyr. Play the hero. Be the one who could get through to him.

Frank was an aggressive child and nothing I did was going to change that. I didn’t believe that at first and I threw myself completely into the challenge.

That year was probably my worst year as a teacher. My health was in bad shape. My personal life was a shambles. The rest of the class, bless their hearts, suffered because of Frank’s outbursts.

I don’t know how I survived at all.

In the end, did all of my worry and perseverating about this one child, 24/7, make a difference in his life for the better? Probably not. It was too much for me, or anyone else for that matter, to handle at the time.

So, at the end of that year, consciously or not, I began to make changes. I started to change my conversation about school in more positive directions, or I didn’t bring it home at all. I tried to stay in the moment so that I could be present for my family whom I had ignored for the year that Frank was in my classroom. I started to see all that I had missed. I vowed not to do that again.

Since then I have realized that I’m not a martyr; I can’t save the world by myself. That’s not even my job. At least, it’s not in my job description!

I am committed to my students, my profession and my learning. I will always strive to be better than I was the day before for myself and for the students in my classroom. But it bears repeating: I am not a martyr. I am no good to anyone if I’m not well. That has been a hard lesson to accept.

And, reflecting on this now, so many years later, I wish I’d been able to accept these lessons sooner: it is so important to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Teachers are notoriously not good at this and so many of us end up with stress-related illnesses. Even with all of the information out there about the importance of work-life balance, so many of our colleagues stuffer from an unbalanced life. I wish I could take them into my confidence and say, “Don’t. It’s not worth it. You can be an effective teacher and be healthy at the same time.” It’s just a matter of knowing ourselves. Knowing when to stop. Knowing what gives us energy and joy. Yes, teaching gives me energy and joy, and when it doesn’t (the year of Frank was that year for me), then it’s time to regroup, reevaluate, remove yourself and start again.

You will be grateful you did.  I know I am.

This Spring Break I will be going to my oldest daughter’s baby shower. The anticipation of that celebration brings me unbelievable joy.

What will bring you joy during the upcoming break?

 

 

Spring Break, Summer, A Year Ago – #SOL March Challenge

In two more weeks it will be Spring Break.

After that, April, May and June will probably just fly by.

It seems that every week gets busier than the previous one. And, busier because there are school events (almost always worth the time) that seem to interrupt our classroom routines. Which makes me think that it is probably in the fall and early winter when most classrooms have what might be called a “more normal schedule”. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to focus on the curriculum demands – what I’m mandated to teach – earlier in the year so that it doesn’t feel like I’m rushing to teach it all right at the end.

Of course, if I think outside the box of traditional curriculum demands (which I try to do, despite institutional constraints), then I can say that the teaching and learning that I’ve done with my students this year has in some ways gone outside and beyond the curriculum, as it tends to do. And, if all we’re concerned about is covering the curriculum, then we’ve lost sight of the students we are teaching. I promised myself long ago I would never do that and if I had to choose curriculum over kids, the choice would be a no brainer. Of course, my students would come first.

I’m beginning to anticipate the end of the year.

The start of summer.

The uncertainty of a new school year looming ahead. A year ago I was a bit unsure where I would be and what I would be doing at this time. It seems crazy that was a year ago! It seems even crazier that summer is around the corner.

Still so much to do…

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the March Slice of Life Challenge.