Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Fresh Start - Giving Yourself GRACE

Good evening/morning friends!  Depending on when you're reading this, it could be the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018!  Whatever time it is, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

As 2017 comes to a close I have spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the past year, as I'm sure most of you have.  This year overall, has been a challenge for me - pushing me not only to my limit, but past it, professionally, personally, and spiritually.  If I had to sum up the result of all of the events, the highs and lows of the past year - it can be summed up with broke me.
Now, I usually don't get too deep or real or personal on my blog (well let's be honest, I don't usually blog...) because I often feel as if what I have to share and say isn't valuable.  There are other teachers, mothers, people out there who are more eloquent, have better ideas, more drive and more knowledge.  But I'm writing tonight in the hopes that I reach someone.  Just one person maybe.  One person who has been through what I've been through or who is going through what I'm going through.  Who feels how I feel, to understand that we are not alone.

As teachers, we are naturally inclined to put others first.  We love and give of ourselves selflessly and strive to make the lives of those around us better - even at the risk of hurting our own well being.  We tend to look at the world with rose colored glasses and just 'see the good' in situations while there are red flags telling us to slow down, step back or walk away staring at us right in the face.  We tend to not stop until we are MADE to do so, and even then we are inclined to feel guilty when we do stop and put ourselves first - taking the time we need to rest, recover and heal.   
This year was a year of loss for myself and for several people close to me.  I watched a friend of mine lose her mother - one of the most wonderful people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.  I watched friends struggle with infertility and strained relationships.  One of my best friends of over 20 years dealt with her father being diagnosed with cancer.  I lost my grandmother and watched my father lose a parent for the second time.  And I fought my way through and for a difficult relationship only to suffer the loss of that relationship - one I had planned a future in.  All of this while, as teachers, we deal with the ins and outs of our positions - new curriculum changes, staff changes, struggling and high risk students and families, high expectations of test scores and student progress - while simultaneously being expected to put on a smile and be a source of positive light for our students.  I've never known a harder job.
I drove myself mad this year taking care of other people and when I stopped to take care of myself, the guilt I felt was too much.  As events happened in my life that brought me to my knees (literally - God and I are really close at this point), I should've taken the time - paused - to take care of myself.  Instead, I let the pressures of being a mother and teacher take over and just kept pushing on - thinking this is what I was supposed to do right?  That's my job as a mom/teacher - I take care of people.  So I kept on keeping on.  However, the one thing I wasn't doing was HEALING.  And eventually that suffering, due to whatever struggle a person is going through, keeps building and building.  And try as you might to push it aside so you can get things done and keep living life - it will catch up to you.  I started resenting things.  I started resenting my job - the lesson planning, the assessments, the meetings, the sheer task of coming to work everyday.  Things I normally LOVED became a source of contention for me.  Not because my job changed - because I had.  I started resenting my life at home.  The grocery shopping, the cleaning, the baths, the homework, the gymnastic practice, etc.  The little joys I once felt weren't there anymore.  The reason for my resentment.  I hadn't taken care of my needs first.  I had put everything else before my own well being and I had become resentful.  The old saying, "You can't pour from an empty cup." is completely true.  I had been sucked bone dry and I was tired of giving.
Life came to head for me in early December one Sunday night.  Typically, when using a personal day you are supposed to give the principal 24 hours notice.  I have never used a personal day except when it was absolutely necessary - closing on my home, sick children, etc.  But on that Sunday evening I called it - I needed a moment for me - I need to pause.  I texted my principal that night and told her I needed the next day off.  Without hesitation, she said absolutely.  I made sub plans and took my kids to school and spent the day with ME.  I prayed at one of my favorite grotto's, I took a drive, I shopped, I ate.  I did whatever made MY SOUL HAPPY.  I needed it.  And if we're all honest with ourselves, we don't take enough days like that.  
After surviving 2017 (and yes that sound dramatic, but that's the best way to describe it), one of the biggest lessons I've taken away from this year is that it's OK to not be OK.  You don't have to be the perfect teacher/mother/wife/friend/sister all of the time.  You don't have to have your life together all of the time - honestly who does?  If you know someone, I want their phone number so I can ask HOW?!  It's OK to ask for HELP and it's OK to time for YOU.  The career path we've chosen is not an easy one.  We spend many sleepless nights worrying about other people's children.  We are overworked and definitely underpaid.  And when life happens on top of  it, the stress of it all can be unbearable.  That's when you have to learn to cope and rest.  You have to take time to pray, or run, or cook (heck, even drink) - whatever you need to do to make you better.  And don't for a second feel guilty about it.  I guess what I'm trying to say is give yourself some GRACE.  Don't hold yourself to a state of perfection, because when life happens, as it always does, you have to allow yourself time to adjust and move forward.   
My goals and hopes for 2018 (no, not resolutions since those are notoriously broken) are as follows...

I know there will be more hard days ahead.  "God promised to give us our daily bread, but he never said it would be buttered."  I know life happens and unexpected curve balls are thrown at us all the time.   My hope is that when they are, you take the pause God is giving you.  You accept it, take the time you need to heal or cope or handle whatever situation you are in - you deserve to and you will be a better you for doing so.   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Are you actually DEVELOPING with professional development?


I recently attended one of my favorite conferences, the annual Conference on the Young Years, at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  I have attended this conference multiple times both as a registrant and presenter, college student and teacher professional, and I always walk away feeling refreshed and revitalized to go back into my classroom and put what I've learned into practice.  However, the handouts, notes, folders, and materials I bring back each year, often end up on my desk, buried under the inevitable stack of assessments, lesson plans, report cards, etc. that pile up.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have every intention of implementing the new strategy I learned about or try out the new activity, I really do!  Don't we all?  But somehow life and other priorities get in the way.  Sigh.
This year, however, the conference coincided perfectly with a small comment from a student and a conversation with my district on professional development - both of which, have got me thinking... 
You see, the day before I left for the conference was one of those insane, "Will I make it through today without screaming, crying or at least drinking some wine?" kind of days... not only did I have a semi sick kiddo at home, packing to do and sub plans to make, I had three meetings on my schedule - 1. my weekly grade level collaboration over my planning time, 2. our building's PLC (Professional Learning Community) team meeting at the end of the day, and 3. our district's PDC (Professional Development Committee) meeting after school.  Three meetings.  One day. Oy.  

While I understand the value of professional development and actively seek out opportunities of interest, there is always a pang of guilt when time is taken away from my classroom and my students - time I could be teaching valuable lessons or information.Well, as you can imagine, three meetings in one day for a teacher meant that at some point I would have to leave my students with another teacher for a short period of time.  Since I am on two different committees this year, this happens frequently and my students are aware of the reason for my absence and the procedures for carrying on without me in a team teacher's classroom.  Early on in the school year, I explained the reason for so many meetings to my students - put simply in five year old terms - teachers have meetings throughout the year to help us learn how to be better teachers and take care of our students.   On this particular day, as we were nearing the end of the day, I reminded my students of my meeting and that they would be spending time in the classroom next door.  Suddenly, a student exasperatedly shouted out, "But you already know how to teach!  Why do you have to go?"
At first, I felt proud.  "My students think I'm an excellent teacher and don't want me to go!  Awwww!  So sweet!"  However, my next thought was...."Wait, why do I have to go?  Are these meetings really benefiting my teaching and my students?"  Hmmmmm.... Later that day, I went on to my third and final meeting where our district PD team began discussion on professional development opportunities for our staff and what we wanted that to look like.  You see, I am fortunate to work in a school district that not only recognizes the changes happening in education, but strives to support teachers so they are able to grow with those changes.   During our discussion, we looked at several blog posts by George Cuoros.  One the articles, "The Students are Paying Attention", resonated with me.  
In the article, Cuoros makes the point, "After professional learning days, educators should share what they learned, and what they are going to do moving forward with their students."  Teachers are often begging for professional development opportunities, but after receiving them, the follow through does not always happen.  So where is the disconnect?  Is there just not enough time to implement?  Is there not enough time to reflect and process?  Was the professional development topic not something the teacher was passionate about learning more information on?  Whatever the disconnect, teachers should hold themselves accountable to their students and be a model of a lifelong learner.  

This comment and this article combined have caused some inward reflection on the role professional development plays in my career.  What am I getting from professional development opportunities?  Are they ACTUALLY changing the way I approach my classroom each morning?  Or is just a wasted day?  From this reflection I have realized a few things...
1.  I believe professional development is necessary for teacher growth and in turn student growth.
2.  I believe not all professional development is created equal.
3.  I believe teachers should have a choice in their professional development opportunities - we differentiate student learning, why not teacher learning?  
4.  I believe teachers should be held accountable for their learning and growth - not to administration - but to themselves and their students.  
5.  I believe teachers should be active seekers of professional development opportunities that interest them and their personal and professional goals. 
After spending two days at the Conference on the Young Years, I knew I wanted to demonstrate lifelong learning to my students and show them something new I gained - incorporate something new into our classroom.  I challenged myself to find at least three pieces I could bring back to my classroom and IMMEDIATELY implement.  Even with the sessions that proved more difficult to incorporate, I was able to find something to reflect on and bring back.  
During the conference, there was a discussion of helping students be ACTIVE and INVOLVED learners.  Are we speaking WITH children, helping them expand their knowledge through genuine conversation and reflection?  My mind instantly went to the multiple assessments I had given to my students in the weeks prior to end third quarter - was I really spending time with students and discussing the results with my students?  Giving feedback?  As a professional presenter and learner - I crave feedback.  How can I improve?  What worked and what didn't?  Why am I not giving my students the same opportunity?  I decided I would create an "Assessment Self-Reflection" form to use with my students immediately after giving them an assessment.  This would be a way to open up conversation with my students on their learning in my classroom.  Did they really feel confident and prepared while being assessed?  As a teacher, I hope the answer is always yes, but what if the answer is no???  I can easily print this off and attach it to the front of the assessment for parents to have a better idea of what was assessed, their child's self-reflection, and any feedback from the teacher.  Get your copy by clicking the picture below!

The next session I attended was on technology use in the classroom.  While I am slowly venturing into the technology realm, I am nowhere near comfortable to teach others about it.  All I can say is I LOVE ADOBE SPARK!  I learned enough about it's capabilities through demonstrations and experimenting that I was able to create this fun little video of my students' writing!  I have many plans for this app in my classroom including social stories for a student of mine and individual student writing reports!  My kiddos were excited to be involved and see the end result as well!  I encourage you to try it out!

Finally, I perhaps spent the most time reflecting on my own session.  I presented on using hands on learning activities to teach ELA and math concepts.  While doing the prep work for the presentation and then reflecting afterward, my thought was, "Yes.  This is great, but what ELSE can I do?"  Maybe it's the perfectionist in me, but I find myself looking on how to expand.  I decided I wanted to encourage and support more hands on learning opportunities for my students and their parents at HOME.  How can I make learning more fun for THEM?  Yes, I send home a homework packet.  It's simple and quick but it's not.....FUN.  And not reflective of my classroom or how I believe students learn best.  This week we had Kindergarten Parent Learning Day.  It was a block of time in the afternoon where parents could come into the classroom and participate in learning activities with their child.  This was the perfect opportunity to show parents a simple hands on activity and discuss why those kinds of activities are important for their child's education.  

I used my Editable Card Games pack and typed up subtraction problems within 10.  I then provided the following mat to each student.  In groups, students took turns pulling a card from a bag (cute little bunny bags from Target Dollar Spot of course!).  The student would read the subtraction problem and use jelly beans to solve the problem on their mat.  

Parents enjoyed seeing the hands on approach and had fun participating in the activity with their child!  To grab this freebie - just click on the pictures below.  I added a jellybean card page for you to put your own equations on!  :)

Additional;y, I've decided I want to take control over as much of my PD as I can.  This summer, two fellow bloggers Deedee Wills and Reagan Tunstall, are offering a professional development opportunity in my home state.  I know this will be a beneficial PD day and something I will benefit from.  This is a great opportunity for me to grow as an educator and I am actually SUPER PUMPED about it!  To check out the conference information click on the link below!  

Whatever the professional development opportunities look like in your district, or building, or center, I invite you to self evaluate.  Do you have input in decisions regarding what PD is offered?  If so, are giving your input?  If not, talk to your principal, the superintendent, your the dialogue.  When you do participate in professional development opportunities, are you an active learner yourself?  Are you actively seeking information and content you can take back to your classroom?  Are you taking time for processing and reflection?  Are you given that time from administration?  If not, ask for it.

Professional development opportunities are meant to help us grow as educators.  When approached with the right attitude and supported correctly by administration, teachers can BLOOM and students will benefit. 

Today is a district PD day for us and I am going in with an open mind, positive attitude and inquisitive spirit...can't wait to see what the day holds!  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Resolutions


I know everyone says this but I CANNOT believe it is 2017!  Seriously!  How did we get here?  Yesterday I had a little moment of disbelief.  I was shopping at the mall and in line at a register where a young girl was applying for a store credit card.  I overheard her birthday and the year was 1997.  And I thought, wait.  1997?  But that makes you like ten right?  Girl, surely you are not old enough for this.  Wait....Oh, nope that makes you 19.  19!  Time is flying by way too fast and I'm really starting to feel my age y'all.....

Anyway....2017 is here and with the new year comes new resolutions and fresh starts.  This isn't just personally for me, it's professionally too.  Over Christmas break, I spent some time regrouping, relaxing and rearranging my classroom, getting it prepared for the new year.  New centers, new name tags, new activities, new know the drill.  With all of this 'new', also comes a new attitude.  The first half of the school year is over and as we round the bend to the second half of the year I feel a fresh start is needed.  In fact, it's time for a confession.  I admit it.  The first semester wore me out friends.  Please someone tell me I'm not the only one!  I love doing what I do.  I.  LOVE. MY.  JOB.  But as we drew closer to December it was getting harder to LIKE it.  Class parties, endless meetings, paperwork, the excitement (and craziness of the holidays), those few students who had been happily tap dancing  on my last nerve, plus that 'pile of things I'll take care of over break' that had grown to maximum capacity......all added up and truthfully, I. WAS. DONE.  

So over break I did take care of *most* of that massive pile, but I also took some much needed time to just BE.  I took a step back and did what I wanted.  If that meant sleeping in, or drinking coffee and watching Gilmore Girls all day, or playing with my girls and not even thinking about school, it didn't matter.  I DID IT.  And I LOVED IT.  This much needed step back, gave me time to rest and clear my mind.  It also gave me an opportunity to think with a level head on some of the changes I need to make in my classroom.  While there were A LOT of ideas and thoughts around what I should change, there were three that kept coming back to my heart.  While I can change my centers, change my room arrangement, and change my schedule, the biggest change needed for the new year was me.  Here's a quick list of my New Years' resolutions for the next half of the year.

1. LAUGH MORE - If I had a goal of one thing I wanted to accomplish this school year, it would be that I want my students to love coming to school.  Yes, I want them to learn.  Yes, I want them to walk away capable thinkers and doers.  Yes, I want them to handle situations appropriately and be respectful individuals.  But first and foremost, I want my students to LOVE COMING TO SCHOOL.  Because truthfully, if students love coming to your class everyday, they will learn, they will become great thinkers and doers, and they will learn to be respectful.  So I want to have more fun.  Laugh more, play more, experiment more, be silly more.  Because students will remember how you made them feel above all else.  

2. SLOW DOWN - Let's face it.  There are A LOT of things we are required to include in our lesson plans every day.  Sometimes it's hard not to get caught up in 'fitting it all in'.  But is cramming information in really what's best for our students?  I find myself adding extra pressure on myself to follow the book and keep everything on track.  Sheesh I'm tough on myself!  Allowing our schedules (and ourselves) to be more flexible, following our students' lead and spending more time on difficult or student led topics is more beneficial to student learning.  Just remember, they are little and need more time and hands on practice to understand concepts we've understood for years.  I'm going to slow down, breathe, and take my time this new year. 

3. SMALL GROUPS - One thing that has become very apparent in my classroom this first semester, is the vast and varying needs of my students.  I am carving out time in my classroom schedule to spend quality time with small groups and individual students - targeting goals together, practicing skills and building relationships.  My goal is to practice engage in more intentional teaching and focus on  activities for small groups and individuals to help students meet goals and become more successful in the classroom.  I plan to do this through small math groups, student conferencing every Friday and using a classroom literacy aide more intentionally while she is in my classroom - shifting my focus from the whole classroom to more individual.  

The truth is, none of us is perfect.  Sometimes we get off track and the things we've always known and done have gotten pushed to the back.  Now is a good time for a fresh start and fresh perspective. :) What are you working on in this new year?  I'd love to hear from you!