Filling The Motivation Tank

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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

 

Summer Plans

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I’ve officially completed my sixteenth year of teaching and it was a great year. My students worked hard and we created a fantastic community I hope will last in the years to come. We learned, we laughed, and then we cried when it was time to say goodbye. This sort of bond doesn’t happen every year, so I am particularly grateful when it does happen.

Teaching can be a demanding profession, but all that hard work pays off when students walk out of my classroom a little wiser and a little more confident than when they entered nine months before. Having summers off is pretty awesome, too.

So, what should I do with two months all to myself?? The possibilities are endless, especially since I’m starting to feel a bit more free than I have in the last few years. After dealing with so much loss (family, friends, and furkids have all passed away in the last three years), I’ve admittedly not been myself. However, it finally feels like some of those heavy clouds are starting to clear. I can feel bits and pieces of myself falling back into place. And its exciting.

My list of things I want to do is already likely to fill up more time than I have, but I like having options when I wake up in the morning:

  1. Start trail running, again. Years ago, I was a trail runner and I loved it. I gave it up due to time constraints, but now I think its time to bring it back into my life. The physical activity and time with nature did a world of good for me.

2. Start cooking, again. For some reason, I stopped cooking healthy meals and making salads. I’m going to pull those old recipe cards out and get away from those processed boxed meals.

3. Knit. Like there was ever any doubt this would be on the agenda! This summer I’m looking to learn some new techniques and add more socks to my already stuffed sock drawer.

4. Write. Also a no-brainer item for the agenda. I’m hoping to continue my haiku practice, but also to jump back into the query process for my novel. I haven’t given up on that yet and I have all summer to send out query packages to the agents on my list.

5. Read. I have a stack of “to read” books I can’t wait to dive into this summer. I’m already halfway through my Goodreads Challenge goal, but I want to be at least 5 books ahead of schedule before the new school year starts.

6. Learn something new. I’m still deciding what I’m going to learn – I’ve kicked around everything from languages to a new craft. We’ll see where the muse takes me!

7. Binge on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. I have several shows/movies I want to watch and catch up on including, Grimm, Portlandia, The Blacklist, Bob’s Burgers, About Time, Theory of Everything, The End of the Tour, and so many others!

8. Work. Yep, teachers can’t help but do some work over the summer. I’m teaching a new class (AP World History) in the fall, so I’m going to try and get a jump on the planning process. It’s a class I’ve always wanted to teach, so I’m looking forward to outlining the basic structure.

9. Spend time with family, furkids, and friends. As my circle continues to get smaller, more free time means more time with those I care about the most. I’m just going to hold onto them a little tighter and make sure they know how much I love them.

10. Clean out the house. It’s time to purge the shed and closets of the stuff we no longer use or need. I cleared out the built up junk in my classroom last week, so I’m already in the mindset of getting rid of clutter.

This list should probably have the word “relax” somewhere in there, but I’ve never been one for long periods of sleep or sitting still. Why start now?

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c.b.w. 2016

Need A Laugh?

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After spending most of my weekend writing a paper for National Board Certification, my brain is effectively fried. While I’m almost done with this particular section of the process, a good laugh is at the top of my priority list at the moment. Simon’s Cat continues to give me the chuckles when I need them the most:

Hee hee!

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Stay tuned for haiku, photography, and black out poetry in the coming days! 🙂

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c.b.w. 2016

Favorite Thing Friday: That New Start Smell

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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

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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