Filling The Motivation Tank


The start of a new school year brings about a certain amount of excitement … then professional development happens and all that excitement is sucked into a black hole.

I spent the first day back in a district level meeting that lasted from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. with only one break for lunch. The topic: training for the new textbook and website. While this sounds logical – we should know the materials we are using to teach our students – it is in fact ridiculous. I’ve been around long enough to know how to use a textbook and I’m pretty sure I know my way around a website (I’ve only created three of them for my classes). This is a training that should have lasted an hour tops. But no.

Within the first 30 minutes, I had already gone through the entire website and found all the nifty little resources I can access for my students. Then, I found all the mistakes in the tests and quizzes (oh, my goodness there were A LOT of errors). I sat for the rest of the training watching every bit of enthusiasm I might have had for the new school year slowly and painfully drain out of me.

This is pretty much how it goes every year. I learned a long time ago that I have to be responsible for my own motivation. After sixteen years in the teaching profession, I’ve constructed an arsenal of empowering, uplifting, and motivational tools to remind me why I stay in this profession.

Sir Ken Robinson: TED Talks and Books

Every year, Ken Robinson reminds me how important creativity is to learning and how important it is treat students as individuals. He inspires me that I have power to help students learn and explore their strengths and talents. He advocates an education revolution that redefines how schools work and how students are taught. It’s a revolution I quietly foster each and every day in my classroom.

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Bring on the Learning Revolution!

How To Escape Education’s Death Valley

After watching Robinson’s TED Talks, I flip through his groundbreaking book The ElementI keep a copy on my desk and reference it often. I’ve underlined countless passages and sticky tabbed dozens of pages.

This summer I read Robinson’s latest book, Creative Schools. I had to read it with a pencil in my hand so I could underline nugget after nugget of inspiration. It’s going on my desk, right next to The Element.

David Foster Wallace – This Is Water

Back in 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College. The speech has since been published as both a book and audiobook, (This is Water) It is a deeply moving, funny, and thought provoking observation of education, life, and philosophical perspective. It reminds me to get out of my own head to see things as they really are and to do so with compassion.

Anis Mojgani – Shake the Dust

I first heard this piece of slam poetry at the tail end of Mat Kearney’s song Heartbreak Dreamer. It is an incredibly elegant and powerful piece of poetry that reminds us all to face our challenges and find the strength that lives inside. It was so powerful, I decided not to keep it to myself. I share it with my students during the first week to inspire them to fight through their own personal challenges.

Too bad I can’t convince my administration to borrow a few of these for future professional developments!

A new batch of students is set to walk through my classroom door this week. My tank is full and I’m ready for a new and great school year.

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c.b.w. 2016


Favorite Thing Friday: That New Start Smell


A friend of mine loves this time of year because she loves the way a new box of crayons smells. I’m with her on this – there is nothing quite as wonderful as that waxy Crayola aroma. It means the crayons are perfectly sharp and that a new school year is about to begin.

At this time last year, I didn’t want to go back to work. My usual enthusiasm for teaching was buried under the huge weight of grief. Within days of losing a close friend to cancer I was expected to show up at work with a smile on my face and “get pumped” at professional development meetings. No amount of welcome back activities or fresh crayon smell was going to get me excited for a new school year.

Things only got worse as the school year progressed: Three more people passed on, including my Grandfather. I found myself pretending to be enthusiastic and happy, when I really  just wanted to go home and cry. Some saw through it, but many did not. It’s funny how you find out who your real friends are when you are stuck in a very black hole. Even when I folded in on myself, they never gave up on me. I credit them with keeping me afloat.

I walked away from the last school year knowing I could’ve and should’ve done better. I didn’t do a horrible job, but I certainly didn’t reach my personal standard. My inner critic wanted to harp on this fact, but when it comes down to it, I was in survival mode. I did my job and my students learned what they needed to learn, but I couldn’t connect to them in a way I’ve been able to in the past. Quite honestly, I couldn’t connect with anyone.

After a year like that, I spent my summer healing and rediscovering my spark. It’s been two months of exploration. Two months of renewal. Two months of learning to live again for the sheer thrill of it. I did the things I loved most, traveled, and spent time with friends and family. It was all about reconnecting to everything that mattered most to me. And it worked.

I am excited to go back to work this year. So excited, in fact, that I’ve been working on curriculum for the last two weeks. I decided it was time to give my arsenal of lesson plans a much needed refresh. Instead of rehashing the same old thing, I’m opting to experiment with the Flipped Classroom Model.

It’s a terrifying thing to suddenly shift gears, but I’m relishing in the challenge. Aside from the issues I had to deal with last year, I realized I was bored. The last thing I want is for my students to feel the same way, so it’s time to shake things up.

So far, I’ve got class websites set up for both of my content areas and two weeks worth of lesson plans/assignments constructed and uploaded. I am literally getting up early in the morning to have extra time to work on it. Everything is looking awesome and I can’t wait to try it all out on my students.

Next, I’ll be heading into my classroom, (four days early!). I’m giving the place a mini-refresh by getting rid of some furniture and clutter. Since I got new student desks this year (OMG, so thrilled for this – the previous desks were over 20 years old), I’m considering a new desk configuration. I’ve had the same configuration for ten years, and I think it’s run its course. For the walls, I’ve ordered some new posters and they should be here any day!

It’s a new start and it feels really good. The grief is still there, but it serves as a more of a reminder that I was loved and I know how to love. That’s a powerful thing. Far more powerful than sadness or self-criticism.

My first official day back at work is next week. The day before, I plan on buying a fresh box of crayons. In the moments before a long day of professional meetings, I’m going to open the box and enjoy that “new start” smell.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: Caffeine in General


For the last week I’ve been knee deep in preparing my portfolio entry for National Board Certification. This means working 12 to 14 hour days without much of a break.

This insane project includes:

  • a 13 page paper that essentially describes and analyzes my teaching strategies, outlines a series of lesson plans geared towards the ultimate goal of developing critical thinking and reasoning, and addresses the standards of teaching laid out by National Board.
  • three packages of lesson plans complete with full lesson description, instructional materials, and resources
  • three packages of student work samples that align with lesson plan goals and show growth indicators
  • full description of my classroom and school

Now you know why caffeine is my favorite thing this week. I need it in order stay in a good mood and power through my day. Sleep was never my friend, but remaining in a ridiculously good mood and having massive amounts of energy to work my way through a labyrinth of paperwork can only happen with the jolt of caffeine.

Whether it be chocolate (M&Ms, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers bites, Milky Way bites, Kit Kat bites, Hershey drops, and Hershey kisses) or my favorite muse juice, a Cafe Mocha, I owe many thanks to the miracle that is caffeine!

I’m in the homestretch of this segment of the National Board Process. I’ll be uploading my entries over the weekend! May the caffeine gods be watching over me!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: T-Rex Logic


After a very busy week of grading final exams and last minute assignments, a good old fashioned T-Rex meme is just what I needed. A friend sent the below quote graphic to me on Pinterest, thinking it would be a great quote for a Social Studies department t-shirt and it’s been making me laugh all week.


I’m usually not big on work logo shirts, but if my department decides to do this, I will totally wear it. Science is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but Humanities rocks, too!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014


Favorite Thing Friday: Setting Major Goals


This week I attended a training workshop for National Board Certification. For three days, my brain was stuffed with information about what a teacher has to do in order to become National Board Certified. Between reading and analyzing standards to completing insane timed writing practice tests I’m pretty exhausted! However, I know it’s all going to be worth it.

Achieving National Board Certification means a lot more to me than  simply having a few extra letters after my name. It’s about validating my teaching practices and considering how I can get even better in the classroom. Teaching isn’t about settling into the status quo. It’s about constantly learning and improving for the betterment of education as a whole.

After teaching for 13 years, I felt like I was starting to fall into a rut. The last thing I want is for my students to get stuck with a teacher who is stuck and wallowing in “been there, done that.”

I realized I needed to feel the excitement of discovery, again. I got a taste of that brand of excitement during the last school year when I was tasked with creating curriculum for AP Art History. That particular challenge got the adrenaline rolling again and now I’m thirsty for more.

With that experience in mind, National Board is sure to give me a major jolt! While the process is long and rigorous, I can’t wait to see what I learn about teaching, my process, and myself.

On the last day of training, I got a great piece of visual motivation to keep on my desk as I work. The organization that offered the training closed out the event by giving away a series of door prizes that only teachers could love. I should state that I never, ever win door prizes. So, I sat in my chair looking around the room trying to guess who would win. Then, they called my name for the first prize. Cool beans!

Here’s what I won:


I got the green one.

Is this nerdy? Yes, but I love, love, love tumblers with lids and straws. I will be using this thing every single day, which means it will be a great reminder of what I’m working for and that I have a great group of people supporting me as I jump into what is sure to be a challenging process.

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p.s. Don’t worry I’m still hard at work on the writing thing, too!

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c.b.w. 2014