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Friday, March 31, 2017

Thirty Days Later: My Journey In Creating a Writerly Life

Finally...day 30! Wohoo! I made it!

I am a BIG fan of challenges. There is something uniquely appealing in the idea of makingdoing, creating, following, practicing, and/or being for a set number of hours, days, weeks, months, etc. I enjoy the routine, the predictability, the accomplishment, the feeling of pride, and the achievement. Especially once I have accomplished the task for the day. I may not always enjoy the run, but I ALWAYS enjoy having run. I certainly don't always like writing, but I enjoy that I haven't broken the streak.

When I started this challenge on March 2nd (a day later than I had hoped), I knew I could do it. I knew it would be a challenge; that writing and posting my writing would make me feel vulnerable. I knew there would be days when I just didn't want to write (many more than I thought). I knew I would suffer from writer's block (also more times than I thought I would). But I knew I could do it! I mean, I am no stranger to challenges like this. I have completed two Whole30s, #the100dayproject (I started mine last April 1st), and trained for several half marathons, some 10Ks, and countless 5Ks. On Monday I started a new challenge, the #sketch50 (TwitterInstagram) challenge introduced to me by Amber McCormick. This is in addition to the meditation streak I have going and the 30-day writing/blog posting challenge I have assigned myself. Remember, I like a challenge.

What I've Learned

During the course of the past 30 days I have become aware of a lot of things about myself. I really do like writing. It's an amazing creative outlet that I haven't truly explored as an adult (or even as a kid). There is something magical about sitting down with a pen and a blank sheet in my notebook or sitting like a pretzel on my couch with my laptop keeping my legs warm and watching as ideas flow from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to make letters appear on the screen.

When I get blocked, writing is a chore! The good thing about having the pressure to write daily is, you work through the pain. I posted some garbage this month, but I wrote. And that was my goal.

What Surprised Me

  • I am surprised by the number of people who interacted with my blog and with me. Your comments and tweets kept me going. Some, like the tweet about "Send It In An Email" got me thinking. 
  • I am surprised by what content you liked. Last night's Beauty and the Beast post, which was the byproduct of writer's block and an idea that has been swimming in my head for over a week, got a lot of feedback. As did "Bedtime Stories" and "I Am One Lucky Teacher".
  • I'm surprised that the more I write, the more people seem to read. I know someone is thinking, "Enough, already." Thankfully, no one has been so unkind as to say it to my face or digitally.

What's Next

So what's next? As I write my final daily blog post and think about plans to nurture my fledgling writerly life, and as I start my next daily project with the #sketch50, I am thinking about what's really next. What will I do to continue to grow and challenge myself? I know there is more. There is so much more. I am committing to posting 3 times per week here on the blog and posting daily on my Instagram account. I plan to continue weekly posts like "#PodcastPD" and "Learning In the Loo". The final post will be something a little meatier, like my "One Word for 2017". Please keep me accountable.  If you stay the course with me, there will be more to come. I am working on a new project, one that has been in my head for nearly a year and is slowly becoming something. I think you'll like it!

Thank You!!!

I thank you for coming on this journey with me. I hope I made you laugh a little, think a lot, and want to stretch your muscles and try something new. What are your next 30 days going to bring?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lesson As Old As Time

Same story, new spin.

Two weeks ago my grad school friends and I met for the opening weekend release of Beauty and the Beast. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the meet up, as these teacher friends and I usually only get together during school holidays and breaks (#teacherlife). There was also, simply, a lot of excitement surrounding the release of the movie. After all, it's been 26 years since Disney released the animated version of Beauty and the Beast.

I'm not 100% sure why....perhaps it was because I saw the movie with fellow teachers (and our sons), or the fact that it's been such a long time since the original, or a combination of the two, but I started thinking about how Beauty and the Beast is a tale of how we as educators need to re-invent our teaching and re-release it for a new audience.

Some would say there is nothing wrong with the original 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast. The animation was perfect. The scenery was perfect. The music was perfect. The supporting characters were perfect. Belle was perfect. The movie was perfect! How could it be improved? How do you improve perfection? I know teachers who feel this way about their teaching. They ask, "Why do I need this new... (fill in the blank), my kids have always learned with my methods. They do well on the state test."

I will never forget when a young teacher in her third year announced to me, "I am so happy to finally be teaching the same grade...now I can just look back at my lesson plans and copy/paste!" WHAT??? Hold on!!! Pump the breaks!!! You are a third year teacher and already you have lost the excitement of lesson creating? (I call it lesson creating, because, let's be honest, there is nothing exciting about lesson planning.) This teacher was too young and too new in her chosen career to be so excited about reaching into the digital filing cabinet and using old and dated lesson plans. We cannot simply take lessons out of the vault and change the date on them!

Don't get me wrong, all lessons do not need to be re-created from scratch. From year to year our standards and curriculum do not change much. Sometimes we can take an already strong framework and breathe new life into the lesson. Change the delivery method. See if there is a good place for the use of technology. Add student choice. Change the mentor text. Create new story-problem sets that include your students' names and interests. Flip a lesson. There are so many ways to rejuvenate a our teaching practices.

We need to keep in mind that each year our students change. Their interest change. Technologies change. And every now and again, our curriculum and standards will change (Next Gen Science Standards, anyone?). Change can be good. Change keeps us fresh. Change keeps us on our toes. Change keeps the moths out of the wardrobe. Create something new from the old. We need change, not for the sake of change, but because our kids deserve it!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Favorite Edu Quote

My favorite quote...

Share your favorite educational quote in the comments below; I'd love to sketchnote it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tissue 4 of Learning in the Loo

In t-issue 4 of Learning in the Loo I share one of my most often used extension-One Tab and a keyboard shortcut that could save a writer gobs of time-Ctrl + F.

For back tissues of Learning in the Loo, check out these links:

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Teacher's Never-Ending Thanksgiving Plate

Today's question for the daily twitter chat #BFC530 was ....
It got me thinking about the overloaded Thanksgiving plate teachers are forced to pile onto each year. Rarely does a school year start where a school or district isn't adopting a new initiative or two, or three, or four...you get the picture. We are constantly adding the new school year's mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce while the offerings from the previous year get moldy, as we haven't had time to properly ingest them.

I remember one year, not too long ago, when my district started the year with 5 new initiatives without giving teachers extra time to get it done and/or without taking something away. As K-5 teachers we moved from quarterly marking periods to trimesters, from grades based report cards to standards based report cards, from one lesson plan platform to another, we started using a new student information system (think student attendance and grades and teacher evaluations), teachers started incorporating math workshop into their math instruction.

If you are an administrator I implore you to consider what you are taking off your teachers' plates before you add anything new. It's time to cut back on the educational calories we consume throughout the school year. I know I would have a lot more room for biscuits if there was a little less stuffing.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

#PodcastPD: Lessons Learned from How I Built This

I love the show Shark Tank! Early in my viewing history, my boys and I watched it together. Now, I am lucky to have them sit through a few short segments, but I never grow tired of their expressions of awe when the entrepreneurs talk numbers with the sharks, especially when they talk valuation of the startup.

When I discovered that NPR would be producing a new podcast called How I Built This, I immediately downloaded the first episode, which featured Spanx creator, Sara Blakely. I was hooked from the first episode and quickly discovered that my boys are hooked too. When I asked them about their favorite episodes my oldest immediately named the Warby Parker episode while my little guy predictably stated he liked the Atari/Chuck E. Cheese show. Each and every episode has been fascinating. If you like origin stories, this podcast is for you!  If you teach classes in design, STEAM, or business, this podcast is for you! If you or someone you know is a budding entrepreneur, this podcast is for you!

Tonight I share with you the Warby Parker episode, which I recall listening to during winter break. It was an eye opening conversation between host, Guy Raz, and co-founders Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa. Be sure to listen through to the end, as Guy always features someone trying to breakout with their business.

For more on #PodcastPD check out these posts:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bedtime Stories

Today was a day chock full of reading; my kind of day!!! It started with the completion of the audio book I started 3 days ago, continued with the first book in the series (yes, I am reading them out of order-I had no idea it was a series), moved to reading a loud to my nephew (Elephant and Piggie books are meant to be read aloud), and concluded with the featured sleep story, The Velveteen Rabbit, on the Calm app.

As I started to drift toward sleep while snuggling with my younger son and listening to the story, I thought about the fact that we don't read together anymore. This thought made me sad. My sons and I have listened to countless audio books together: the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series and most of the other series written by Rick Riordan (that is until hew was able to read those tomes on his own), and many others and we have done a tremendous amount of "lap reading". But book selection has primarily been the job of my older son, and then, once my 9 year old was able to read bigger, harder books on his own, we moved on to other audio consumption...namely podcasts.

As a former 1st-3rd grade teacher, with experience in 4th and 5th grades, I know the importance of reading aloud to a child. There is data to show how the read aloud increases fluency, comprehension, and listening vocabulary. I have always been a fan of audio books; I look back fondly on my days as a little girl sitting with my cassette player playing side A of the audio tape while I followed along with the book, waiting for the beep that would prompt me to turn the page. I recall the pride I felt as I moved to side B and was able to keep pace and turn the pages without the guidance of the prompt. And I remember the sense of accomplishment when I was able to read faster than the narrator and graduated from the cassette tapes all together.

I am proud that I live in a household of avid readers. My 12 year old, if engrossed in a good series, can often be found with his nose in a book. My little guy was slower to grow into his love of reading, but is an avid re-reader of books, despite the number of new titles waiting for him. My husband and I haven't always been the type of couple to share titles, but since we read Harry Potter together back in the early 2000s, we frequently make recommendations to each other, though my husband is much more successful at finding books I will like, recommending titles like Pride and Predjudice, The Book Thief, and the Divergent series (which he and our older son read together).

So, why am I writing about this? Well, in my quest to find balance this year (you can read about my One Word here), I thought that the re-introduction of audiobooks and the read aloud might be one activity to find that balance. My younger son has already instituted a weekly game night; perhaps a weekly game night will be another way for us to disconnect from our electronics and connect as a family. We may cheat a little and use my favorite audiobook app, Overdive, but I think in the end we will come out as the heroes in our own story.

Friday, March 24, 2017

#PodcastPD: Lessons Learned From Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers S3EP14

Generally the plan for the #PodcastPD: Lessons Learned series is to write about one podcast episode from a week of podcast listening (so far I have listened to 9 different episodes since Monday). Each post consists of the accompanying sketchnote I create while listening and is released on Sundays. Today is not Sunday, and I listened to this podcast episode nearly a year ago, but after yesterday's post about how to prepare for a conference requested by your child's teacher, I wanted to follow up with how to prepare for a "Bad News" conference. I have been thinking about the post for a solid portion of the last two days when I happened to look through an old sketchnote notebook and found this...

In episode 14 of season 3 of Truth for Teachers, Angela Watson offers her 10 Tips for Conveying Bad News in a Parent-Teacher Conference. I am pleased to say that RJ's teacher did a great job incorporating many of Angela's tips into ur meeting (which lasted nearly 2 hours-I'm not sure how or why, and it didn't feel that way). I am happy he has a teacher who cares so much; he is in good hands.

What tips do you have for a "Bad News" conference? 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

7 Ways to Prepare for a Request From Your Child's Teacher for a Meeting

If you're the parent of a school-aged child, you have likely prayed to a higher power that his/her teacher would make it through the 180 days of the school year without making the "dreaded phone call" or sending the "carefully worded email" asking you for a meeting (either over the phone or face to face). I have crossed my fingers and toes for the past seven years begging the EDU gods for an incident-free year, and for six of the last seven years my boys and I have had no luck!

Here's a brief history on RD and RJ. RD is 12, in 6th grade, and a great student. He is the type of kid who, if cloned, would make for a class of great students. He's easy to get along with, a good role model, conscientious, and hard working (most of the time). I remember having very little to say about kids like RD in my own conferences. Those kids demand very little from their teachers and are just a delight. RJ is 9 (almost 10), in 4th grade, and a charmer. Ever since he was a baby I knew I was in trouble; his stubbornness could ignite a dormant volcano while his smile could melt the polar caps. He's a tricky one; inconsistent in every way, yet consistently surprising us. I know that if I were ever his teacher it would be a tough year. I am happy to say, most of his teachers are surprised when I say that. Did I mention his smile?

I will never forget when I got my first phone call from the boys' school. I was shocked that RD had beat his brother out on who got the first phone call (both boys got one in Kindergarten, though RD's came earlier in the year). There was a reprieve when RD was in 1st grade and then, for the first three years that RJ has been in school, we have received the dreaded phone call. As a teacher I know I always reserved phone calls for more serious issues, preferring to soften criticisms with tone and inflection, both of which are missing in even some of the most delicately crafted email correspondence. (I truly believe there is a right and a wrong place for email.) The phone calls have always gone well and through conversation and actions, have shown RJ that his teachers and his parents are on the same team-the one that wants to see him succeed and control some of his silly behaviors. Last year we avoided the phone call because we had a heart to heart with RJ's teacher (who we knew well from when RD had her) at Back to School Night. And this year we thought we were going to make it, and technically we did; on Friday of last week we received an email requesting a meeting. After a few back and forths I realized RJ's teacher wanted a face to face and then my heart sank. Aside from Back to School Night and the first parent-teacher conference of the year, I have never scheduled a meeting with my boys' teachers to discuss their progress. 

But I knew I couldn't let the impending meeting defeat me...and I didn't. Here's are the 7 steps I followed to assure I had a successful parent-teacher meeting.
  1. Make sure you know what the teacher wants to discuss. Nothing is worse than attending a meeting you are not prepared for. Make sure you know if you are there to discuss behaviors or academics or both.
  2. Talk to your child about the meeting you will be having. Your child should know you will be discussing him as a student with his teacher. Ask him if he has any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions he'd like you to share on his behalf. If you feel comfortable enough (and you child is old/mature enough-about 5th grade and up), you might even suggest to the teacher that your child attend the meeting with you so that you can develop an action plan together as a solid team. This helps create agency with your child. He will be part of the conversation, adding valuable information and hopefully coming to a better conclusion and outcome overall.
  3. Listen to your child's teacher with an open mind. As a teacher it's never easy to break the news to a parent that their child is struggling in school. If your child's teacher is reaching out to you it's because s/he wants to see your child succeed. A meeting or a phone call with you may add missing pieces to a puzzle that you thought was intact. Listen to what the teacher has to say about the school day, how things are going in writing workshop, about missing homework, or inappropriate behaviors. 
  4. Add to the conversation. YOU know your child best. Help your child's teacher with the missing pieces. If you are seeing the same things at home, own those behaviors and struggles. Being dishonest about how your child presents at home will NOT help matters at school or at home. Now is the time to admit that your child can't sit still long enough to eat a full meal or that she plays with one toy ALL. THE. TIME. If your child hates reading or writing, or struggles with math and word study, let her teacher know. The teacher is an integral part of your child's learning team!
  5. Take notes. Getting any kind of bad news can be overwhelming. Be sure to take notes on key information as it is presented, strategies that have already been put in place and their effectiveness, and steps in the action plan (if one was developed). These notes will help you and your child as you take steps to make improvements.
  6. Fill in the necessary players who may not have been in attendance. If your spouse, partner, or significant other was not able to attend the meeting, be sure to fill him/her in on the details of the meeting (this is where those notes come in handy). Also, share any necessary information with your child, as the meeting was set up to bring about changes that will affect him.
  7. Follow up with the teacher in a few weeks and share new insights (make changes to the action plan as necessary). After a few weeks, check in with the teacher to see if there has been an improvement as a result of your joint efforts. This need not be a face to face meeting, many times a phone conference will suffice. But do meet if the teacher feels this is the better option. Perhaps this time you can bring your child with you. 
In truth, I have not completed step 7, yet, but I have already scheduled a reminder to send my follow-up email and will clear my calendar if RJ's teacher wants to meet face to face (good or bad). I'll keep you posted. 

How do you prepare for meeting with your child's teacher?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One of Those Days

Today was one of those days....

  • A full day of PD
  • Pop-ins to teachers requesting support
  • A meeting right after school
  • and two important meetings in my town
Tonight I am phoning it in because I chose to spend the last few minutes of the evening with my boys and now I am off to bed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tissue 3 of Learning in the Loo

In tissue 3 of  Learning in the Loo I share one of my favorite ways to start a new Google search-CTRL + L. Plus I share the CraftyText extension and Jessica Musleh shares how she uses Padlet in her ELA classes. 

For back tissues of Learning in the Loo, check out these links:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Not So Happy On This International Day of Happiness

To know me is to know that I am a pretty smily person; happy go lucky, trying to see the positive side in everything. Only those who know me well are privy to the darker sides of my moods. The complaining/venting, the quick burst of anger that need an immediate outlet, like a tea kettle bursting with steam. Still, I try to keep my negativity in check and focus on the brighter side of things.

However, today, on the International Day of Happiness, I am feeling pretty melancholy. I have a very severe case of the Mondays. The day's events- multiple frazzled-teacher requests, frustrating tech issues, PARCC security training, and a BOE meeting that has me near tears for my district and the students and teachers in my town, coupled with the "deflating" accounts of my colleagues' experiences on this first day of spring, have me feeling like an Eeyore when I much prefer to be a Tigger.

My saving grace? March 20th is nearly over. I can go to sleep and wake up to a new day, a day where I choose positivity over the alternative. I will meditate, breathe, and be calm. I will focus on family and friends. I will change my mood. I might even try some of the suggestions on Happy Acts.

Maybe the answer to my problem is I am in need of a good run. That's it...tomorrow I will lace up my running shoes and chase my blues away! How do you chase your blues away?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#PodcastPD: Lessons Learned From Sketchnote Army Podcast SE03 EP03

This week's #PodcastPD brings you one of my passions - sketchnoting. In episode 3 of season 3 Mike Rohde talks with teachers Dana Ladengurger and Carrie Baughcum, exploring how these two teachers bring sketchnoting into their classrooms with two very different approaches. My favorite take away was the idea of creating a Doodle Buddy or Learning Mascot - a partner in learning whose purpose is to highlight the most significant ideas. I'm looking forward to creating my own Learning Buddy. Or will it be a Doodle Mascot...I'll keep you posted.

I challenge you to listen to the episode and create your own sketchnote! Post your pictures below.

For more on #PodcastPD check out these posts:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Today I Missed a Day of Learning...Or Did I?

This third Saturday in March marked The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project's 92nd Saturday Reunion, and for the 4th time in the 11 years I have been attending, I missed a reunion. I am heartbroken, yet proud of my decision not to attend this weekend's reunion. And though this is the second reunion I have missed this school year, my Teachers College (TC) PD has been phenomenal, today, and this year as a whole. 

As an educator it's hard to attend ALL the PD (insert poor-teacher joke here), but as a mom, I am finding it harder and harder to leave my boys behind on the weekend, especially when a month has the potential to be FULL of PD (last weekend was the EdCamp Summit, this weekend was TC, and next weekend is EdCamp Urban). So, tough decisions need to be made. The decision to skip TC this weekend was made easier when my mentor and long time friend, Aline Galvano, told me she needed to cancel. Since she is my ride into the city, my next thought was whether I wanted to rely on my chauffeur (aka NJ Transit) to get me into the city. I hemmed and hawed until I heard the weather report, which did not seem promising. That right there, folks was the deciding factor.

I was bummed about missing the Saturday Reunion...until...I logged onto Twitter and saw all of the #tcrwp tweets! Other educators from around the world (TC draws a wide audience) had been tweeting all day about their learning and a quick look at the hashtag had me almost feeling like I was there. 

While not quite the same, using a conference hashtag can help you get the gist of a conference. Couple that with a Vox or face to face chat with a live participant, and it's almost like being there, without the added cost of attendance. Don't believe me? Check out some of these hashtags:
I look forward to digging deeper into the #tcrwp and #cue17 conversations over the next few days. What conferences and PD have you attended virtually? Did you suffer from a serious case of FOMO? How did twitter help? 
Skip the FOMO and us the hashtag!

Friday, March 17, 2017

I Am One Lucky Teacher

The luck of the Irish...

As I started to reflect on my day and think about this post I realized that I am one lucky teacher! Today was a wonderful day, full of Irish spirit, lots of green, yoga, Pi Day, wild animals, and first graders. I know, seems like a lot for St. Patrick's Day!

Here are some photo highlights from the day, which started with this beautiful spread at my school.

Green Breakfast provided by the TGMS Social Committee

Next stop was green screening at one of our elementary schools for their annual Match/Science Day. I wish I could share pictures of those adorable first graders, but... Green screens and St. Patrick's day don't mix. Digital fail. This is a friendly blog-no floating heads here!

After a delicious lunch I had time to explore one of my favorite teachers, The Bug Guy, who shared two of his favorite friends with me.

Rosy and me. Her legs/feet felt quite unusual on my bare skin.
Linda and I in a warm embrace. He is quite the hugger. Yes, HIS name is Linda!

Linda let me hold him before putting him back in his bag.

After Math/Science Day I headed over to the Board Office to meet with my director to discuss my final evaluation for the year. I look forward to this meeting each year, as it has me waxing philosophical and puts me in the right frame of mind to start reflecting on the year that has transpired and prepares me to start thinking up the year ahead. While waiting for my director to return I ventured down the hallway to one of my favorite 5th grade classrooms and had the opportunity to see this...

5th grade students hold one of their first yoga classes.

After a long and thoughtful meeting with my director (where we solved all of the problems in the digital world), I rewarded myself with some pie. Our annual Pi Day was postponed due to the snow day on Tuesday. Being one of the last members of my department to arrive, the rest of the pie was mine!!!

Five varieties of pie. I sampled all but one.

I LOVE Pi Day!
On this St. Patrick's Day I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. I truly am one lucky teacher!!!

What makes you lucky? What are you thankful for?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tissue 2 of Learning in the Loo

Tissue 2 of Learning in the Loo brings you one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts-CTRL+ any number 1-9. Add that to pinning tabs and be prepared to have your world changed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Two to Three Meetings You Should Be Attending Each Month

Today was another day of meetings. The first meeting was impromptu and rescheduled from last week. The second meeting was a final planning session for a meeting later in the evening. The third meeting was canceled due to weather delays in the morning. And the fourth meeting (the one for which I held that brief planning session) was canceled after it started, due to lack of attendance.

Today's meetings, both those that were held and those that were canceled/postponed, were great meetings and/or held promise to be great meetings, as they broke from the norm (a planned panel discussion for teachers embarking on the 1:1 journey, a good news report, and a Breakout Edu demo).  I was sad that some of these meetings got postponed. This got me thinking about the meetings I enjoy attending.

I know. I know. I just heard you gasp in surprise that there could ever be a meeting that I enjoy (especially after reading Monday's post). But there is truth in this statement. The meetings I am describing, while not always fun or engaging, are informative and provide an opportunity for me to share my concerns and show my support. What meetings could I be talking about? My local Board of Education (BOE) meetings, PTA/PTSA, and/or my local education foundation.

While not a religious attendee of BOE or PTA meetings (I manage to attend 5-6 BOE meetings and 1-2 PTA meetings each school year), I find that they are beyond informative and allow me to participate in school business in ways not accessible unless done face to face. During these meetings I am able to gain information about school culture and climate, study team and group dynamics, observe how and what school and community leaders share. I have seen good decisions and bad decisions be voted upon. I have witnessed heated arguments (one I recorded and one I would like to forget forever). I have seen teachers show support for one another and showcase the talents of their students. There is so much to see and learn at these meetings. It was at my last BOE meeting that I witnessed passionate PTA members implore the board for extra funding for an expensive 6th grade field trip in one agenda line only to be followed in the next agenda line with news that our budget will need to be cut by $500,000, leading to cutting 5-7 teachers from the staff. Did I mention I live in a town that is considered one of the most underfunded in my state? Sad but true. While I am not pleased with that last bit of shared information, I am happy I was able to hear it first hand and share it with my community members who were not in attendance.

As for my local education foundation/fund, I have been a trustee for  seven years, serving as an executive board member for a few years and as a committee co-chair, chair, or member for all seven years. I find the work rewarding, knowing the moneys I help raise through myriad fundraisers go directly back into classrooms via a grant program, funding projects big and small.

So, while I am NOT a fan of meetings, these three are pretty regular exceptions. What meetings do you make it a point to attend? Why?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Do You Meditate? 5 Apps to Help You Build Your Meditation Practice

We have all been stressed. Things at school build up (report cards, conferences, SGOs, IEPs); we become ill with the common cold or something more serious (or even worse our children get sick); we meet with people that put us on edge (something that happened recently). In life we find ourselves in situations outside of our control. Over the past two years I have found that meditating helps ground me and bring me back to center when times get tough and my stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure rise.

I am not going to mislead you and have you thinking that I am some zen guru or a mindfulness master, but I can definitely tell you that I am a better, more focused person on the days that I practice meditation. Meditation is just that, a practice. I practice my breathing, paying attention to the breath as it enters my body and as it exits. I practice silence, refraining from using my words and listening more. I practice stillness, keeping my body in a seated pretzel position. I practice letting go of thoughts, freeing my mind from the never ending swirl of conversation. And I practice daily. My longest streak was for 100 days, some days including 2-3 sessions. Currently I am in the midst of a 40+ day streak that started at the tail end of January.

That last practice, freeing my mind of thought is the hardest for me. I am CONSTANTLY thinking. My ideas swirl about in a crazy whirlwind that could benefit from Dumbledore's pensieve. During the school week I meditate in the morning, just after my daily twitter chat (#BFC530). I find that the calming start of to my day helps put me in the right mindset for the day I want to have. Inevitably thoughts creep in, whether it's my list for the day, things that have been bothering me, or something else, very rarely do I make it through my 10 minute guided meditation without an errant thought traveling through my mind. But the app that I use brings me back and refocuses my energy on my breath, or my posture, reminding me that losing focus and letting in thoughts is normal, and to accept it and move forward, back into the meditation.

If you're like me-mind a jumble, stressed at times, needing balance, I encourage you to try meditation. I have used several different apps in group meditation at school, but currently am using only one. Here are some apps that you might like to explore:

  • Calm-this app is my favorite. I discovered it last school year and liked it so much that last February I paid for a subscription that unlocked a plethora of guided meditations. Shortly after paying for for it, I discovered that teachers can get a free account to use in schools. Some of my favorite features include the Daily Calm-a new guided meditation each day, the customizable breathing exercises to help you relax quickly, the sounds and scenes, and the stats.  Moving forward I think I might explore some of the sleep stories, as I have difficulty quieting my mind at night as well as in the morning. With so many features, I highly recommend this app!
  • Insight Time-if you enjoy guided meditations and variety, this may be the perfect app for you. It's simple interface allows you to explore a top 20 list, playlists for kids, mindfulness, stress, and gratitude, as well as other features.
  • Headspace-this app was used in a group meditation at school. I don't know much about the app personally, but I like the simple layout of the app and the ability to track your progress.
  • Spiritual Me-an app that I have downloaded, yet never explored. If you use it, let me know how you like it.
  • Mediation Studio-another app that I have downloaded and never used. Looking at the listed features, it seems similar to Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace.
Do you meditate? Do you have a favorite app to help guide you in your meditations? Do you meditate without assistance?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Send It In An Email: Five Alternatives to the Traditional Meeting

If you're an educator or anyone who works in a team setting, you're probably for too familiar with meetings. So far this month, and we are only 13 days and 9 school days into March, I have attended five meetings! Don't get me wrong, I love face to face meetings with people. As an extrovert I thrive on conversations with others. What drains me, though, are meetings that could be conducted via email.

Instead of holding people hostage in an hour long meeting, consider these options:
  • Send it as an email-an agenda that is merely a list of one liners that need little explanation, can, and should be, sent as an email. The tricky part is that we need to READ the email. No more excuses. If taking five minutes to read an email saves you from an hour of boredom and daydreaming, open the email and read it.
  • The flipped faculty meeting-get the business out of the way via email and/or send an article in advance of the meeting and then have teachers engage in meaningful conversations with one another about the article, planning, students, or across content areas. Teachers who long for the ability to meet and plan with their colleagues will appreciate the time dedicated to these rich conversations.
  • The virtual faculty meeting-this year I was fortunate enough to work with a supervisor who conducted one of her meetings in a Google doc, negating the need for her teachers to gather together after school. She created a series of tables within the doc that served the purpose of collecting responses for various questions. Teachers were asked to use separate cells in the table, change their font color, and respond to one another's ideas (similar to a blog comment). This back channel was well received and could be accomplished using myriad other apps: Twitter, Today's Meet, Padlet, and others.
  • The Voxer meeting-conduct a team meeting using the Voxer app, the instant messaging app that allows you to create audio, text, video, and image based messages. My favorite feature in Voxer is the voice recording aspect, as it allows me to get my message across quickly and easily.
  • The team building meeting-another meeting I was lucky enough to attend this year was a team building meeting in my building where teachers had the opportunity to play games; good old fashioned board games like Jenga, Taboo, and Pictionary; oversized games of checkers and Connect 4; and physical games in the gym that included basketball, volleyball, and ping pong. My team and I have also met outside of school to participate in an Amazing Escape Room experience. 
Meetings should be opportunities to gather together to share ideas, learn new things, and, most importantly, connect with others. I hope these ideas will help you move away from the bulleted agenda style meetings that we are accustomed to and explore other options. What other types of meetings have you been a part of? I'd love to bring your ideas back to my district!

A BIG shout out to AJ Bianco who helped me find my topic tonight by asking me what I did today. You guessed it, I had a meeting. Do me a favor, send AJ a tweet telling him how much you liked the topic! 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

#PodcastPD: Lessons Learned From The 5AM Miracle-Ep. 193

Back in January my 9 year old son decided that Mondays were going to be family game nights. No TV, no phones, no hand-held devices, no video games, no screens. Since then, every Monday, just after dinner and showers for the boys, we disconnect and pull out the games. We have played family favorites like Machi Koro (a game of strategy), dominoes (we love the game Mexican train), Monopoly (yes, we actually enjoy that one), and several others.

Last Monday we played a few hands of Uno and followed up with a favorite from when I was little, Yahtzee! Then on Tuesday, during my morning commute, I listened to Episode 193 of The 5AM Miracle with Jeff Sanders. In the episode Jeff and his guest, Tessa Sanders, shared how they create for themselves "anti-productivity focused blocks of time" (FBOTs). Jeff has often spoken about the power of FBOTs for getting things done. What struck me most about the episode was the intentionality of doing NOTHING during the FBOT. Taking time to unwind and disconnect, with the focus being on self care. Activities suggested for this special FBOT included reading, writing, watching a movie, spending some time alone, or with friends and family. Tessa, Jeff's wife, likes to dedicate an entire week to her anti-productivity FBOT, but Jeff wisely suggested starting where you are comfortable; with a week, a day, or an hour.

It made me smile to think that as a family, we had already started our own mini anti-productivity FBOTs and I had my 9 year old to thank for making it a new family tradition. Now it's time for me to start extending my FBOTs to longer periods of time and revisiting some of my forgotten and neglected interests. 

How do you make time for self-care? What activities would be part of your FBOT?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Be More Duck

Today during #EdCampSummit we were challenged as groups to create #unkeynotes. Here's the one we created as a group...

It was a great challenge that was presented to 12 groups. While feeling totally vulnerable, I was slated to present slide 2, which followed a slide calling all participants to Be More Beaver. I will admit that in recent years I have adopted the duck as my spirit animal/#edu patronus-an animal that reminds me how to behave when out in the wilds of my school, district, and the world.

You can imagine, then, when my #edupatronus was shared with other groups to present during their #unkeynote. Mockery and disdain resulted from the following image. Soon (hopefully tomorrow) I will share why the duck is my adopted spirit animal and why I think the room read the image incorrectly. Until then, what is your edu patronous/ spirit animal?

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends...

On this first night of #EdcampSummit I spent a bulk of the night catching up with these two...

Thank you for being my heroes in education and my rock as I grow and learn professionally and personally. As Chris said recently, you truly are my best friends in Edu!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Balance: Part 1

I had every intention of writing a full blog post, and then my son said, "Mommy, will you snuggle with me?" Then my older son chimed in with a, "Me, too!"

An OLD photo that Facebook shared as a memory.
Proof that time is moving swiftly.

So...I snuggled. Because I wanted to. Because I want them to know they are first. Because they won't want to snuggle for ever. Because they are growing up too quickly. And because I will be away all weekend learning with some of the best educators in the area, and I wanted all the time I could get to snuggle with them. And now I am signing off to go pack for the weekend and give them one last kiss goodnight.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Edu Bucket List

As teachers it's hard not to be goal orientated and driven toward something better for ourselves; we write yearly professional development plans, create daily objectives for our students, attend professional development with the hope of learning something new that can be used immediately in the classroom, etc. Oddly enough, while I have goals and aspirations as an educator, I never considered what might be on my Edu Bucket List...that is until I was prompted into sharing my bucket list with the #BFC530 community during one of their recent daily twitter chats. Still, I was stumped, thinking to myself that such a list did not exist for me. And then I started seeing other's responses and realized that I truly DO have an Edu Bucket List and I LOVE that it keeps me on the path of learning. Here it is:

  1. Google Educator-levels 1 & 2 
  2. Google Certified Trainer/Innovator
  3. Another degree (something to get me to +30 in a masters +30)
  4. Admin certification 
  5. A title prefix and the accompanying degree (I have always liked the sound of Dr. Lindes)

I tell you this not to feel important or grand in my goals, but to make myself transparent and to ask for your help in keeping me accountable. 

What's included in your Edu Bucket List?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Introducing Learning in the Loo

Back in January I started a bi-weekly series dubbed Learning in the Loo, a volume of quick tech tidbits that could be picked up while using any of the teacher's restrooms in my middle school. I thought the idea was brilliant and had to borrow it from Kathi Kersznowski who, I believe, borrowed it from someone else (teachers love to share and I thank Kathi for sharing this idea with our group!). Since its inception at the start of the new year, I have heard mostly positive feedback, so... I thought I would share that little bit of knowledge here. Come back next week for another Tech Tuesday and another t-issue of Learning in the Loo!

Do you have some Pee-PD you would like to share with my staff? Tell me about your favorite tech tip, app or extension.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Just Do It

Yesterday marked my first "race" of 2017 (I use the term loosely, as I have one speed - S.L.O.W.). If I am remembering correctly, it has been over a year since my last race, the Hamilton Hangover, a five mile run that takes place New Year's Day. I was woefully underprepared unprepared for yesterday's four miler. Since the start of the year I have added a mere 15 miles to my running shoes, no where near the amount of training miles I SHOULD have logged in preparation for the race.

So, as I reluctantly got out of my toasty car yesterday to get my race bib, slightly underdressed for the frigid temps (thank goodness for spare gloves in my center console) I debated the merits of running a race in freezing temps. It was not only a debate with myself, but a debate with my best running friend, who is even less of a cold weather fan than I am. In the end, after heading back to the warm car to don our bibs and debate some more, we decided to tough it out and go for it.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think sometimes we let fear paralyze us, keeping us from trying new things! Think about the number of times we don't try things in our classrooms or in our careers because it's new and unknown and we don't have all of the details. Or, even worse, our fear of knowing less about the "new thing" than our students keeps us from letting them explore and teach us something new.

I see this all the time in my position (though I am happy to say that I am seeing it less and less); teachers give in to their fears of new technology and refuse to use a new tool until they know the ins and outs of the resource they plan to use and share with their students. They MUST be the expert before they will even consider introducing the tool. With the influx of tech tools in today's classrooms and the speed in which they morph and change, it is impossible to know everything about everything (or even one thing). Let your students be self-directed in their learning, deciding what they want and need to know about the new tool. Create a shared Google Doc that allows students to post technical questions and have them answered by their classmates. Release some of the control. You will be amazed by what you and your students can learn together.

Yesterday I felt like a first time runner and my results were about the same, too. I had some of the same fears I had years ago at my first 5K and my goal was exactly the same-don't finish last. I challenge you to let go and just do it. Let yourself feel like a first year teacher for a single lesson, embrace your fears and set a new goal-to learn a new tool with your students.

I assure you, the journey will be worth it! And the next time you try something new, you will know you can do it...because you already did.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lessons Learned from Another Mother Runner: #PodcastPD

My first foray into podcast listening started back in the early part of this decade when the authors of a running book (Run Like a Mother) I had been reading started their own podcast about running. I was hooked on the format - anytime “radio” about topics I like, and hooked on the podcast, which offered this new runner sound advice on tackling a new activity while balancing motherhood and household activities.

Shortly after discovering Another Mother Runner, I discovered the existence of Pottercast a podcast about another one of my obsessions - Harry Potter. This podcast was a treat right out of Honeydukes! Its extensive back-catalogue allowed me to binge for a VERY long time and take a deep dive into a books series that had come to an end and a movie franchise I was still going strong.

Both of these podcasts were my gateway into a self-diagnosed issue I have. Podcast Problems. Right now I currently have a  queue of 581 podcasts in my Overcast app (this does not include the podcasts I didn’t carry over from the iPhone podcast app when I switched podcast catchers nearly a year ago). My catalog of podcasts includes topics that range from running and finding joy, to Harry Potter and other podcasts about books. I even geek out on things like pens and paper, history, entrepreneurship, and sketchnotes. **I am  happy to say that Pottercast is back to releasing new episode thanks to the screenplay and movie release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Chris Nesi opened my world up to two other genres of podcasts:  education and productivity. By sharing his podcast, House of #EdTech, and recommending The 5 A.M. Miracle I have opened my world and ears two new learning.

I mention these podcasts in this new iruntech series, Lessons Learned: #PodcastPD, because these 4 podcasts led me down a rabbit hole of podcast listening. I've learned a lot from these podcasts. In the coming weeks I plan to highlight my new learning from individual episodes in the Lessons Learned series. I hope you will join me in the fun.

Are you a podcast listener? What are some of your favorite shows and episodes?