The Perfect Day

You know that excitement you get when things are just flowing?

Everything seems to be working just the way you envisioned it.

You remembered to do everything you were supposed to do.

You shifted smoothly from task to task.

You toggled seamlessly from Google Meet to Microsoft Teams meetings and back again.

Your to-do list for the day is done and you crossed all the t’s and dotted every i.

Pixels Image

Your desk is a mess ‘cause you’ve been working so hard.

You’re about to call it quits for the night and then you decide to open up your email account from students. One. Last. Time.

And, then you see it.

The student you were supposed to meet with, the one you’ve been after for so long and who seems to be avoiding you, emails to tell you she was there, but you weren’t.

And you realize that being in the “flow” is not the same as being finished.

And that nothing is perfect.

And your work is truly never done.

And, had you known that critical tidbit of information before going into teaching, would you still have done it anyway?

And, of course, you know the answer to that question.

Because being a teacher is your life’s calling.

And, so you pick up the pieces that fell through the cracks and start all over again the next day.

You can’t remember everything ‘cause there are so many things to remember and so many things to do. So many.

So, you apologize.

You reschedule.

You forgive yourself.

Tomorrow is another day.

It’s time to put this one to bed.

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

Shifting

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

This month I am making small, medium and big shifts.

Shifting my tone of voice.

Speaking softly even when I’m about to lose it.

Shifting how I speak.

Slowing down my speech so that it fills me with deep breaths and not angry talk.

Shifting from assuming to listening.

Ask ingquestions instead of making statements, which may or may not be true.

Shifting my attitude.

Assuming good intent even though it my not seem that way. And, when it turns out it doesn’t, then it will be time to move on.

Shifting my focus.

Spending just the right amount of time on work, but leaving what didn’t get done for later; later will come soon enough.

Shift is my January word.

Evolve is my #OLW for 2021.

So many ways to shift in order to evolve.

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

A Slight Shift to Evolve

Photo by Sohel Patel from Pexels

Every year, in January, I struggle to find the word that will guide me through the New Year. Most of the time, before February rolls around, I either forget what word I chose or the word I picked just doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

This year is no different.

I started with CREATE.

Who can argue that’s not a great word? I mean, who doesn’t want to immerse themselves in a year dedicated to creating and making things?

Yet, at the last minute, I discarded the word CREATE.

Why, you ask?

Well, I decided that if wanted to be true to myself, I would have to recognize that it just felt fake.

Not that I don’t want to create things or that I don’t typically create anything because I do.

As a teacher-writer, I am always creating.

I create lesson plans.

I write feedback for students.

I reflect in my teacher journal.

I write for my students.

I create and publish blog posts.

I am a creator.

But this is not the word I think should guide my year; it didn’t grab me or find me like I’d hoped it would.

It didn’t feel authentic.

So, I put it aside.

And, the other night, as I tossed and turned in my sleep, other words started seeping through my consciousness.

Change.

Grow.

Evolve.

And, then I realized that I didn’t have to just have one word. I could have many words.

I almost climbed out of bed to write down those three words in my notebook. Instead I kept repeating them to myself, over and over again, in the hopes that when I woke up in the morning they’d be the first words I’d utter to myself.

Well, it worked!

I wrote them in my notebook and later looked for synonyms.

What I discovered is that each of these three words – evolve, change and grow – appear in each other’s lists of synonyms.

I knew then that I’d hit on the right set of words. Next, I chose the one that I thought could guide everything I do this year: EVOLVE.

Every month, I will choose a different word to focus on because having one for the year is just too overwhelming and doesn’t work for me. If the word I chose for a particular month feels like it should continue into the next month, who am I to argue with that feeling? I will keep it until it has served its purpose.

So, my word for January is SHIFT. That in and of itself could be someone’s #OLW. But I’m going to take it slowly. I will find ways to shift my teaching, my thinking about myself, my thinking about others, my advocacy work and my relationships. Just to name a few! LOL!

I see so much in my life that could benefit from a slight shift here or there. So much work that I still need to do on myself.

In fact, I’ve already seen a shift in the way I engage with the challenges of teaching online.

Just a slight shift.

But it’s really all that is needed to evolve.

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

Can I (finally) pull off a NEW ME This Year?

I subscribe to Poetry Minute, a website curated by former Poet Laureate Ken Nesbitt. A recent post featured Kalli Dakos’ poem, There’s a New Me This Year, which inspired me to reflect on all of the ways I try to reinvent myself. I wrote the call and response piece below in an attempt to sort through my conflicted feelings and thoughts about becoming a NEW ME.

There’s a New ME This Year

An organized ME.

I’m already pretty organized. At least that’s what everyone tells me even though I don’t see myself that way. So, can I become a new and improved, organized ME that can see me for what I am and says: that’s good enough?

A find-everything-when-I-need-it ME.

That would certainly be a good thing! I may be organized but when I need something, I can’t find it. What good is being organized if I can’t find the things I need when I need them?

A focused-on-my-important-goals ME.

Oh, this is so hard! I always have so many goals I want to focus on. Which ones are the truly important ones? The ones that will leave a mark? Will be my legacy?

A start-to-finish-I-can-do-it ME.

A not-afraid-of-everything ME. A worst-scenario-is-the-last-scenario-I-will-consider ME.

Working on both of those for sure!

A not-everything-is-about-me-someone’s-out-to-get-me ME. I’m-not-a-victim-anymore Me.

This has been my defence mechanism for so long that I don’t know if I would be able to tell the difference if I’m being targeted by someone of if I’m being targeted by myself!

The problem is that parts of the NEW ME

are not like ME

at all.

Is that so bad? Can I reinvent and sustain a NEW ME even if it will feel strange at first? Even if it will feel like I’m pretending to be a ME I don’t recognize? Or will all of these intentions just flitter away at the end of January?

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

Morning Pages a la Austin Kleon

If you are not familiar with Austin Kleon, including his books and regular email posts, then you need to stop what you’re doing and get cozy with one of the best creator minds out there.

What I love about Austin Kleon’s work is that it can apply to anyone in any field who is doing creative work. And, what is creative work, you may ask? Well, in my mind, creative work is anything you do to invent or reinvent ideas, projects, products, etc that teach, help, support or entertain others.

As a teacher, I consider myself a creator, and not because I create lesson plans, though there’s that, but because I am constantly inventing ways to better teach and connect with my students.

As a teacher-writer I create writing for myself and others that hopefully inspires and nudges others to do whatever they are moved to do. And that is another reason I like Austin Klein’s work: it is never prescriptive, always inventive and I can often find a personal or professional application to everything he shares. And he shares a lot!

So, today I want to share how he has taken the idea of morning pages, transformed it, and allowed me to see even further possibilities.

In his email newsletter this week, Austin Kleon wrote about how he has taken Julia Cameron’s morning pages idea and adapted it to his needs. To me this is the sign of an innovative mind: someone who hears about an idea and that remixes it to address a need they have. Austin Kleon has done this and I have taken it and adapted it to my situation as a teacher.

Morning pages are similar to a brain dump. You just write what’s in your head in a stream of consciousness style for a designated number of words, pages or minutes. The original morning pages idea was to write three pages, first thing in the morning, about whatever comes into your mind.

This is very therapeutic and helps set the tone for the day. It may help clear your mind of noise to make room for what’s important to you.

It may highlight important ideas or projects you want to address.

It may help create a list of projects for your work day.

It can be a way to get unstuck when you don’t know what to write about. A kind of mental meditation habit to clear your mind. Once on the page, it can be set aside.

Austin Kleon writes three things he notices on one day and then the next day he’ll write about it in an extended way. This is one of the ways he has adapted the original morning pages idea. The three things he notices fits in with his practice of keeping track of his daily activities.

When I read this, I had a lightbulb moment. What if I focus in on one student every day and write down three things I notice during our online classes. Then, later that day, I write long about each of those things? What might it reveal about that child? What might it reveal about what I tend to focus on? What might this practice tell me about what I may be missing and need to uncover?

So, I started doing this two days ago in my teacher journal. And, it is helping me synthesize and pinpoint areas to focus on for each child. Once I’ve done a few children, I may discover a pattern or a trend to address in my teaching.

The possibilities are endless, but right now it is helping me feel like I’m doing deeper work to get to know and understand my students so that I can connect with them better and focus my teaching to their needs.

Thank you, Austin Kleon!

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

A Letter to Myself

Dear me,

This is a tough year.

You feel like a brand new teacher.

You are learning new technologies and new ways of teaching in an online environment.

You are creating a community in a virtual space.

You are doing what you thought you’d never do.

And, you are loving the time spent with students. So much joy!

So, cut yourself some slack.

Give yourself some grace.

You are doing the best you can.

You are rocking it! (Even on the days when you feel like a failure.)

You are resilient.

You show up as your best self every day.

You are powerful.

That’s it.

Best,

Me

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

Osa

We recently adopted a puppy. She is about a year old and is a German Shepherd mix. I knew she was for us the first time we met her.

I love dogs and I don’t like cats. (I just had to say that.) All of the dogs we’ve owned have been outdoor dogs. That was when we lived in Ecuador. Now we live in Canada and so Osa is an indoor dog.

I didn’t know how we would do with an indoor dog. I didn’t know how I would do with an indoor dog.

The feedings – I feed her in the mornings and let her roam around the yard.

The winter walks – my son is in charge of that, and he loves it.

Osa loves the snow!

All the hair around the house; chewing stuff that she shouldn’t be chewing; accidents and more. Well, all of that and the more too has been part of life with Osa during the past month.

What has been a revelation to me is that she seeks me out. She nudges me to play. She literally throws herself on her side so I can pet her. She locks her paws around my foot as if to say, “Stay. I want more.”

Life is good with Osa.

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

A Question Poem: The Lament of an Online Teacher

Who would have thought that after 35 years in education I would be teaching online?

How can I manage all of the moving parts, including the squares on the screen as children move in and out of the Google Meet?

How can I get to know the student who hides behind his camera and never speaks?

What about the two or three who only want to chat about other things during our precious time online?

When will I get enough sleep?

How can I make sure that I don’t assume negative intent and give the benefit of the doubt instead?

How do I keep my students front and centre of everything I do?

When will I get enough sleep?

Where is the share button?

How come I can’t open this Google Doc?

Did you forget to make us editors again?

Are you muted again, Sra. Waingort?

How can I help my daughter overcome her shyness?

Do you think he’s copping an attitude?

Is anyone out there?

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

Building Community in Digital Spaces

Earlier this month, I co-led a Conversation to Build Capacity, titled: Building Community in Digital Spaces with Garry Smolyansky, @gar_small, for @TheMentoree.

There were seven of us in the conversation and during the one hour session we started to build a community of adult learners on Zoom.

How did that happen, you ask?

I think we set this in mention because we agreed to adhere to a few norms of participation that allowed all members opportunities to have their voices heard. That’s why we intentionally keep these conversations to no more than 10 participants, not counting the presenter(s).

This intentional design allows everyone to speak up and be heard. The presenters guide the conversation based on a limited number of carefully crafted questions that invite participants to actively engage in the discussion, whether through the chat, unmuting your mic, adding comments to a jamboard, or by sharing the link to the presentation and inviting the participants to respond to questions or prompts by writing directly on the slides. Although I would have never thought to do that, my creative co-presenter made it it work allowing everyone to have a new way to join in on the conversation.

As I listened to the voices in the Zoom meeting, my most important takeaway was this: the way to create community in online spaces is to remember our humanity.

Sounds simple, but it requires a particular mindset. It means that we teachers need to let go of negative biases about what would happen if we opened up online spaces so that ALL our students are included.

Let the kids share their pets.

Let them stretch and turn off their cameras.

Let the occasional sibling into the classroom.

Let them use the chat!

Let them show you a piece of their lives. And, make sure you share something of yourself, too.

My students have said they want time to talk to their friends. Who doesn’t?

Building community is about getting to know each other, making connections, discovering commonalities and learning how we are different and celebrating those differences in meaningful ways. That does not change when in a virtual space. It’s just a little harder and takes more time, but it’s doable.

So, I log in to our Google Meet a few minutes before each class so kids can chat with each other. They can also come in to the drop-in times to chat with their friends then.

I always ask if they need to talk to me first. If not, I am just a presence in the room. I keep my headphones and my camera on. My mic is muted. I listen in. And my students chat about the stuff that 9 and 10-year-olds like to chat about. Unless someone needs to talk with me, I use the time to work in the background. If I need to talk with a student who is present, I ask them if it’s OK to do that with everyone there. Usually that’s not a problem and the other kids are treated to vicarious learning by eavesdropping.

Connections matter. The more the kids connect with each other by cementing previous friendships and starting new ones – my students come from three different schools in two different areas of the city – the more likely they will be to engage in learning and the more they will be willing to support each other throughout our time together.

Admittedly, a highly contested aspect of our class online experience has been the use and misuse of the CHAT. Although we are struggling and learning together, I am adamant (obsessed might be a better word) that we figure it out together. I will be writing more about that in another blog post.

I don’t have all the answers, or even most of the answers, to how to build community in an online space. I am observing, reading, chatting about it here and there. So, I invite you to continue this conversation with me.

Leave a comment below about how you are building community (online or offline – we can adapt) or what questions, suggestions, ideas etc come up for you about what I’ve shared here. Pushback is welcomed! And in the spirit of collaboration, I thank you for your contribution!

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

What I’m Learning About Teaching Online

I used to think that online school was a terrible idea. Now I know that the right combination of patience and the ability to be flexible in the moment can make it work for the teacher and students.

But you know what? Being patient and flexible with situations gone amok is not any different from being in a f2f environment. It’s just that used to be my normal and now it’s not.

We need to invent something new by getting rid of what doesn’t work, reclaiming the good stuff, and creating alternative views of what it means “to go” to school.

Here’s my short list of what still matters in teaching and learning, no matter what form of school you’re in right now.

Small group instruction and student collaboration on projects matter.

Conversations and one-on-one conferences matter.

Independent writing and reading matter.

Read alouds and making connections to people, characters and real events in the world matter.

Being able to read and write together and sharing a laugh or two still matters.

Developing and nurturing kids’ “rough draft thinking” still matters.

Giving kids choice still matters.

The teacher listening more than talking, still matters.

Laughter still matters.

Meaningful assessment still matters.

What matters hasn’t changed. Only the ways we are inventing the space for what matters, online or otherwise, is what is changing.

Today, during one of the three drop-in times I offer students throughout the day, two girls stayed on just to chat. They didn’t have any questions about assignments or the big ideas we are studying. No. Instead, after everyone else had logged off they got to chatting about their Leggo creations.

During reading workshop we talked about how we can celebrate when we finish reading. Most of the ideas were doable and then there were two that didn’t sit well with me for different reasons: (1) eating and (2) watching a movie after reading 10 books. My first reaction was, “Nope. We ain’t doing that.” The first for obvious reasons and the second one for even more obvious reasons.

Then, I thought. Well, eating is what people do; they break bread. What if a student wants to celebrate with food? What if we everyone brings something to eat during reading workshop? I can live with that!

I am not about external motivation, especially for reading. I never had pizza parties in my classroom to reward students for reading 100 books in the year. I think we can do better than that to encourage a life-long love of reading in our students.

So, watching a movie after reading 10 books just doesn’t sit well with me. Yet, I want to make sure my students feel heard and respected. So, I suggested watching a movie, either commercial or one a student creates, as something we can do during a drop-in time.

Connections matter.

Patience is key.

Being flexible while remembering what matters is essential.

If you are teaching online, what is working for you? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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