Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Why I love teaching middle school

Any middle school teacher can describe it for you. It's "the look." The look you get when you tell someone you teach middle school. It's a mix of sympathy and "are you INSANE?!" last night I was at a Giants baseball game. At one point, three other middle school teachers and I commiserated about "the look." Moments later, we shared with someone that we were middle school teachers and were on the receiving end of "the look." This time, it came from a high school teacher.

It may come from a fellow educator as it did for us last night. Anyone who teaches elementary or high school or college may have it. But, it is not limited to educators. Non-educators share "the look" with people like us as well. It's a "bless your heart" sort of look.

Now, I know, I have a strong admiration for kindergarten teachers (and other primary teachers as well, but especially kindergarten teachers). I try to avoid giving them a "bless your heart" look, but do not always succeed. Still, it seems middle school teachers receive it far more than any other teacher under the sun. If you teach anything between third and sixth, you likely are less familiar with this look. Somehow people do not have the same sympathy or concern for the middle grades as they do for primary nor for intermediate/middle school. The thing is that each grade presents its own set of challenges. Each grade calls a specific person to teach it. I admire those who feel called to teach what I consider middle grades. I once thought my dream was to teach fourth or fifth grade. I found out through career directional shifts that I was called to something more. My mom is a retired eighth grade teacher. She loved everything about what she did. In th meantime, she became an inspiration without either one of us even really knowing it. After my first year teaching middle school, I talked to her about how much I loved teaching eighth grade. She laughed at me. You see, at one point, I I said I would never teach eighth grade. Funny thing, eighth grade is exactly where I want and need to be.

Why?

Well, isn't that the question.

Let me start with my seventh grade year. I was bullied. My best friend at the time and I had a falling out that lasted a few months. She made friends with some eighth graders. I had a "crush" on a fellow seventh grader. Turns out, one of the eighth graders considered him her boyfriend at the time. She challenged me on the playground. You know the drill. It was the late 80s, early 90s. She approached me, a large crowd gathered around. They all hoped for a fight. I was terrified. I told my parents. They called the school. Things got worse. It was bad. She challenged me to a fight. We were to meet at the elementary school by my house. My parents arranged for me to go to my brother's babysitter's house across the street from the school. So, I did. I watched intently. I had no intention of crossing the street to the school, but I watched. She never showed. Things stopped after that. Awhile later, the girl I had considered my best friend and I reunited and she told me she had smoothed things over. I'm not sure what happened, but it was done, in the past, and life went on. Seventh grade ended and eighth grade started. It was a new year.

And the new year presented new challenges. After the first quarter, my family moved to a new town. A house my mom loved, two doors up from my grandparents, went on the market. My parents bought it. We moved. Goodbye to the friends I had known since second grade, the best friend I had been through ups and downs with and recently reconciled with after a hiatus. Goodbye French class which I had enrolled in with enthusiasm and high expectations. Goodbye house. Goodbye.

And yet, there was also hello. Hello to new friends and new adventures. It was not easy, but it was something I could seemingly manage. Teachers who now instructed me knew my mom. The boy I had crushed on at the end of my seventh grade year was a year ahead of me and one of my mom's students. He was attending a high school in the district I moved to and that was kind of cool. There was a mix of anxiety and hope. Eighth grade is a really difficult year to change schools. But, there are positives to change, as well.

Turns out, the difficulties outnumbered the positives. I really struggled. I was sick, or "sick," more than I had ever been before in my life. I did not want to go to school. But, I had met a new friend. In fact, over time, she became my very best friend and is now more like a sister to me. It was far from easy, but there were teachers who made the difference. And, my new best friend made a difference. It only takes one good thing, one strong thing, to make a world of difference. I ran track and loved it. I confided in teachers. There was even a substitute teacher who influenced me incredibly positively. Over time, I came to accept this new place and these new people as home. I went on to high school with these folks. I attended that high school for my freshman and senior years. In between, I took a journey to the LA County High School for the Arts. Long story short, I returned to my "regular high school" for my senior year due to family reasons and family needs. When I returned, I was welcomed back with open arms. I got reinvolved with Whittier HS theater and even won an award for my performance in the fall play. All of it was pretty cool. Now, to reiterate, it was one friend and a couple of teachers who made the difference for me in eighth grade and that impacted my path forever. The boy I "crushed" on who was a student of my mom's, is still my friend today. We have a chance to visit every couple of years when he travels from his ("new") home in Australia back to the States. My "new" eighth grade best friend lives 20 minutes from me (we both moved to the Central Valley immediately after graduation; turns out we were destined to be "besties" for life and that's why I consider her my sister). But the difference made by teachers had a lasting impact as well.

I love being an eighth grade teacher because I know how hard eighth grade can be. When a student joins my eighth grade class, I know what to look for and how to look out for them because I once was a new student in a close-knit eighth grade class. I work in a school with far smaller class sizes, so it is a little different, but I generally can relate. I listen. I hear. I strive to do right by each student who is likely having their own set of difficulties. Some are more interested in personal relationships than others. Some have academic struggles. Some need more challenges academically. All of this is a part of eighth grade. Each student is unique. Each student has needs that I look forward to helping meet. That is my role, my job, my passion.  The greatest part of this is that I also love the curriculum.

The language arts and science are incredible and the history I get to cover with students is among my favorite. In fact, my love for "Hamilton: An American Musical" has joined with my passion for teaching eighth grade and awesomeness abounds.

Eighth grade is a challenging year for students, but it also can be very special. It takes a teacher with a heart for it all: the students, the struggles, the curriculum-- to see a group of students through the challenges and triumphs of eighth grade. While I understand "the look" when you send it in my direction, know this, I don't need a "bless your heart response" but rather, a "thank you for what you do." Still, you will look at me as you will, and that's ok. To the high school teachers, you know someone needs to do what I do. And as such, I know you appreciate what I (and others like me) do. So, thank you for "the look." To primary teachers, I know that I cannot do what you do and that I appreciate what you do. (I did my student teaching in kindergarten and third grades, and my teaching career started with second graders, so I know what you do presents its own challenges.) I thank you for sending me the students you do. To the non-teachers, I know that we all have a role to play in this world. Thank you for thinking highly of what I do, appreciating what I do. To my middle school friends and teachers, thank you for helping to make me who I am today. Thank you for showing me what helps make eighth grade awesome.

And to my eighth graders (past, present, future), thank you for being you. Thank you for the opportunity to be your teacher.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Catch your wave and ride it out

This spring has taken me for some twists and turns in all aspects of my life, but especially in my role in education. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, where I am, and the students I work with daily. I am quite grateful for the school where I work and the opportunities it lends me as an educator.

I have long stated that I strive to be among the best at what I do. I consider myself a lifelong learner. I know that I can do more and do better. In seeking to improve and grow as an educator, I am seeking to improve and grow my students. They will ultimately benefit from the goals I have set for myself.

I want to start with what I have decided is a perfect analogy for what I am experiencing and feeling in my life as a connected educator, an edtech enthusiast, and the lead member of the EdTechFamily.

On Wednesday, we returned from the first leg of our first vacation of the summer. You see, the plan was this: Capitola Sunday to Wednesday, home for two days, then head to Eureka for three days. It didn't play out quite as smoothly as I would have liked to start, but ultimately, we are on track. The Capitola leg of the trip is the birthday present for my children, a couple of days on the coast including surfing lessons. We did not head to the coast as prepared as we had hoped, but we were open-minded and ready for adventure. My daughter has a healthy fearlessness about her that is balanced with a respect for the water. My son is more fearful but has been working diligently on overcoming his fears independently. Both had an amazing time.

Now, for the analogy. I, too, took a surfing lesson. It was a bit of a struggle between the mama who wanted to show the kids that anything can be done and the mama who wanted to keep a close eye on her kiddos at all times. My son remained on the shoreline, still fearful of what the day had in store, and my daughter was catching her first wave as my instructor said, "this is your wave, are you ready?!" "I'm not, but, that doesn't maaaaatt.....er...." He had pushed me off and I was riding the wave. I moved my hands to push up on the board...and....rolled, back first into the water. The wave slammed down on me, separating me from my board and submerging me in the salty ocean water. In that brief second, I knew that this is where sometimes you may not know which was up. I reached out and started for the surface of the water. My head bobbed up, I took a breath just as a new wave pummeled me below the water's surface. "Are you kidding me? Ok, I can do this." I reached out again. This time, my fingers slipped across the edge of my board just as a third wave knocked me back below the water. I could feel my legs starting to shake. I kicked and fought my way once again to the surface. I grabbed my board, looked over, and there was my instructor. He smiled. "I...can't....breathe...(pause) well, I can, buuut...." He said, "I know." I caught my breath. I got back on my board. And, with a little encouraging, I paddled back out. I wasn't quite ready for another wave, but I was ready to head back out. I needed to do that. The water and I had a new relationship. I was ready for more, but I needed to catch my breath. My son entered the water soon after that. I watched him ride a couple of waves. My daughter was beaming across the waves. We had done something awesome. None of the three of us stood up on our boards, but all three of us rode waves that day. And all three of us are ready to go back. We have a new relationship with the Pacific Ocean that will continue to grow. And, at some point, we may even stand up.

It starts with an idea.
Then there is a little fear.
Then exhilaration.
Then enthusiasm.
Then the quest for more.
The quest to do it differently. And, better.
The need to get back out on the water and eventually, find your wave and stand up then ride it to shore.

This Spring, I started to bring to life a dream for our small rural school. It started at first as a piece of my Google Innovator project idea about a year ago. I pitched it in a hastily thrown together video. I was proud of the video and I was excited about the idea, but when the decision came down that I was not to be included in the Google Innovator LAX18 cohort, I went back to the drawing board. I did not want to let the idea wither away there, but I did still have my sights set on going through the Google Innovator program. I have long-known that this is something I am passionate about doing. I proceeded with pieces of my idea focused on implementation at my school site while also revisiting my Google Innovator pitch. In the meantime, I started working closer with the third grade teacher on STEAM projects and ideas. Together, we put together a proposal for a STEAM Club for our school. In April, our school board accepted our proposal. I was on top of the world. I know our students will greatly benefit from this added investment in STEAM at our site. I am excited to have a partner in this, too. And so, a significant part of my original Innovator pitch is coming to life in the 2019-20 school year. What I found in this is that I still want more for myself, my colleagues, and my students. I was able to pair down my ideas and I got very excited at the prospect of joining the LON19 cohort. I engaged my students and my children as I put together my new idea. In fact, my two young children (then in sixth and third grades) helped a great deal with putting together my video.

I knew this was it.

I knew it only to once again have rejection look me straight in the eye. Damn. This one hurt. I thought I had done it right. I had it all figured out.

Or did I?

There were changes in the approach to the Google Innovator program that I had not fully embraced and understood at the time of applying. That would be a significant part of my "downfall." I have done something new now. I have reached out to to Google Innovators, I have done regular notes and sketch notes. I have researched and soul-searched. This summer, I will work on revamping my plan, my ideas, my big question yet again. I had a huge momentum in the immediate aftermath of rejection, but a lot has gone on since then. I do not want to lose the drive, the momentum, the hope, the plan. I return from the second leg of our first big vacation on Monday. Work on this and other goals begins Tuesday. Not that I have stopped working on it. In fact, I have not. I still have a ways to go, though. The really cool thing is that I am better connected this time on this path than ever before and I have drawn inspiration from a long-distance a colleague (if you will), a member of my PLN who applied five times and is headed to London in July. For him, the fifth time was the charm. He found his wave. He's ready to stand up and ride that wave.

I recently received a "thanks, but no thanks," in response to my Fall CUE presentation proposal. It was just like that second wave knocking me below the water's surface. I kept my discouragement to myself, not even telling my parents this time around. Then, today, I made it a part of my "failing up" story. A wonderful Central California educator and fellow CCCUE Board member, Scott Nunes, tagged me in a Tweet asking for fails.  I truly believe that the only failure is in not trying. So, just as I did not fail at surfing due to getting knocked off my board nor for not standing up to die a wave in to shore, I have not failed in other aspects of my life. I am a go-getter, an achiever. I want the best for myself and my students and I will fight to get there. Waves may occasionally knock me down, but I am never out. I will kick as I reach for the surface. I will gab the board I am tethered to that is my PLN and I will try again. And again. And again.

At the end of it all, I will be my best me to help my students and my colleagues become their best selves. I know where I am going. I see the shoreline. I just have to catch the right wave. That wave was not LAX18 nor LON19. My wave is still to come. That wave was not Fall CUE this year. That's ok, too. My wave is out there. And when it comes, you better believe, I am going to ride it all the way to the shoreline and I am going to celebrate. If I stand up on the way, even better!

By the way, I did ride another wave. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. What I have found is that I need to do a little more boogie boarding first, but we will be back out surfing again next summer. I look forward to catching the wave that helps me reach the point where I am truly "sittin' on top of the world."


Sunday, March 3, 2019

From a #TeacherMom: Raising good digital citizens

Raising kids in the digital age can present constantly-changing challenges. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something else presents itself and you feel almost as if you have returned to square-one. That may or may not actually be the case, but that feeling is overwhelming. Learning to navigate this and raise good digital citizens becomes a role for both parents and educators and the kids need to have an active roll in it all as well.

Over the last week, social media has exploded with articles, personal accounts, and a large number of opinions on the so-called "Momo Challenge." While the challenge itself, at this point, appears to be a grand hoax (in fact, once that circulated, dissipated, and returned), the challenge of navigating social media of various sorts is very real. The latest developments of the week indicate that we all, adults and kids alike, have a lot of work to do and diligence is a must. This week it was the "Momo Challenge." In the past it has been the "Blue Whale Challenge" and there have been less sinister challenges such as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." A year ago, a group of my students put together a video in an attempt to shine some light on what challenges (real, actual challenges) living in this age present when students get bombarded with "challenges" and social media influences. Peer pressure has reached a new height with all of this.

The seemingly harmless "Kiki Challenge" even posed a danger. Yes, let's jump out of a car while it is rolling and dance next to it. What could possibly go wrong?! (Notice my sarcasm there.)

I have embraced for a long time that I feel perfect in my imperfections. I have had to remember that and I have had to take my experiences and learn from them.  Some are easier to get through than others. My son got his first tablet when he was six or seven. It was a Christmas gift. I made sure to go through and set all settings in an effort to protect him from things I did not want him to find online. A few months later, a non-repairable system issue required me to return the tablet in exchange for a replacement. It arrived, we got him signed back in and off he went, with the whole world once again at his fingertips. I never thought to go back and check settings just to be sure. Lesson learned. I will keep the details out of this post, but I will share that we all learned very valuable lessons. Settings ended up being put back in place and I found additional settings I could manage. I also implemented random history checks and opened up a dialog with him. Additional parameters were placed for where he could use his tablet, as well. Here we are a few years later and I still check in with him about what he watches and otherwise "consumes" in his online activities. The same is true for my daughter. The conversations take place frequently not just between the kids and me, but between them as well. I can learn a lot listening as they talk to each other about what they are watching. What they watch has also influenced the things they want to create.

About two years ago, another issue arose. My kids were huge DanTDM fans. As "dabbing" became more and more popular, DanTDM made a video about starting the "Dab Police." It was, I am sure, innocent enough in his mind, but it became something very upsetting to my family. He was encouraging kids to stop other kids from dabbing. We were at a large function with friends and family, but there were lots of people we did not know. My kids played with all of the other kids in their general age-range. A couple of boys put my son in "jail" for dabbing. It started out kind of funny and fun for everyone, but the boys got rougher about it and essentially manhandled my son. It was very upsetting for him, and for me. After we left, I engaged him in a conversation about the origin of the "Dab Police." I asked him to show me DanTDM's video. And, DanTDM was banned in our house. I did not stop there. I went on to attempt to contact DanTDM. I sent him an email. Had he contacted me back and, perhaps, engaged me in a discussion about digital citizenship and his role in the lives of young children, I may have lifted the ban. To date, I have yet to receive a reply and my kids have not watched another of his videos. I liked the positive influence he had on my son originally. My son was learning from him. When that learning in relation to gaming was tainted by being hurt by two older boys at what was supposed to be a fun, family gathering, our relationship with DanTDM viewing ended.

How we act online, regardless of age, can and will be influenced by those around us, as well as by our viewing and other online habits. What we read, what we watch, who we engage. Additionally, with every post we make, we are adding to our digital footprint, or digital dossier, if you will. I use this in my attempt to teach lessons about acting as good digital citizens not just at home, but in the lessons I do with my eighth grade students. Two years ago, following these lessons, my group of eighth graders created a video on the impact of online behavior titled "Footprint 0." What they do even today could potentially catch up to them as they go on to college and into the professional world. The habits they develop today will certainly be instrumental to their habits later on. I encourage them to read multiple sources and fact check what they read. I also teach them to think before they post.

My top three suggestions to parents and educators:
1. Open and continue conversations with kids.
2. Look at what the kids are watching and use that in the conversation
3. Check settings periodically and look at the search history too

I think it is also important to practice what you preach: fact check, consider sources and use more than one resource, check your settings, talk to others, avoid bullying behavior and tactics.

As soon as we figure out how to navigate Facebook, Instagram comes along, then SnapChat, then WhatsApp, and on and on. Remember, too, that YouTube is technically a social media platform as well. It is not necessarily easy, but it is worth it. Whether the "challenge" of the week is real or a hoax, they do remind us that it is important to engage our children and be their guides through this journey to becoming good digital citizens. The "Momo Challenge" is proof of that. While the "challenge" itself is likely a hoax, as it reemerged, people felt the desire to place the image in videos and make it a thing. What started as hoax became a real concern. No child should be afraid to watch their cartoons anywhere. One thing to consider is this: use trustworthy sources on YouTube and help your children to find them, bookmark them, and use them for their viewing. I try to make sure that we stick with "official" pages on YouTube. I know not all of our viewing happens on those, but much of it does. We are perfect in our imperfections. We are constantly learning. We are constantly navigating this ride through life in the digital age. As difficult and tricky as it is, it is worthwhile.

Want to learn more bout Digital Citizenship and navigating life in the digital age? There is an event coming up in Salinas on May 18. Monterey Bay CUE will host a DigCit Summit for educators, parents, and students. For more information, please check out the website by clicking on this link.

What are some tips and tricks you use at home or in the classroom? Please share them in the comments here, or by responding to where you saw this posted/shared.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Glance at the mirror, then keep moving forward

Feeling inspired first by former President Obama, then by my children, and lastly by fellow educator Ryan O'Donnell, I have spent the past couple of days reflecting on what impacted me, inspired me, and challenged me in 2018.

From my post at this time last year:

I expect that 2018 will be a year of more writing and more podcasting and more connecting.
I expect 2018 will be a year of growing more as an educator and passing that growth onto my students.

Growing as a Reader

I expected to do more writing in 2018, but found that I did more reading and allowed myself to focus on that. I understand reluctant readers and work to help them find books that hook them because I have been a reluctant reader myself. If you looked at my home library or the shelves behind my table in my classroom, this may surprise you. I love books. I am relatively well-read. However, I have a history as reluctant reader and I can trace it back to the end of elementary and beginning of middle school. Reluctant readers are not bad readers nor are they bad students. In fact, they are just as I describe: reluctant. I truly believe there is a book for every reader. Even in my reluctant approach to reading, I have always found something to read. I have always loved non-fiction especially. I am drawn to personal stories, to history, to learning more about people, religions, cultures, places. (This may also be connected to my passion for travel and the places I choose to go.) As a writer, I know that I need to read. The two go hand-in-hand. Over recent years, I have stared growing as a reader. I am still more inclined to choose non-fiction over fictions reads, but I have read more in recent years than I had for a very long time. I read education books and work to improve my craft. However, in 2018 I branched out a little more and found that I can grow as an educator from reading biographies of people and embracing more fiction. I was 40 when I first read Tom Sawyer. Yes, 40. I was going to assign it to my students and knew I needed to read it, as well. It was at this point that I first gave Audible a try. I started using a combination of physically reading books and listening to the audio books of the same titles. I spend a lot of time in my car, even with my shorter commute to and from school. Still, I can work my way through books more efficiently if I use the driving time to listen to the books.

As a child, we would spend a portion of our summers visiting our property near Santa Maria and staying in a cabin in Big Sur. During this summer trips, we would read as a family. I have especially fond memories of reading the Chronicles of Narnia this way. CS Lewis remains by favorite author because of this, I am certain. His ability to write both fiction and non-fiction offers inspiration to me. My next favorite author is John Steinbeck. The more I teach Steinbeck to my students and read with my students, the more I want to read of his works. (More on Steinbeck later in this post.)

To end 2018, my children and I read the first two Harry Potter books in part with the help of the audio books. We are all three hooked on these wonderful stories! Jim Dale does an exceptional job of narrating the books. We enjoy his voices and how he brings the books alive. Awesome side note: as I took a break from writing earlier, I had a chance to catch Jeopardy and one of the categories was Quidditch. I nailed every single question in the category. That is something I would not have done two months ago. It excited me especially because I know I knew the answers because I read (or "read") the first two Harry Potter books with my kids.

I am also working on reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. I started it with the audio book and have now ordered a hard cover copy of the book that I will enjoy physically reading when it arrives this weekend. Mrs. Obama narrates the book herself and does so with elegance, eloquence, and grace. This read is serving as my bridge between 2018 and 2019 as I started it in late November, but took a break for Chamber of Secrets to finish out the year.
My favorite book of 2018 was a new release and one I read through quickly. Leslie Odom, Jr. released his memoir Failing Up: How to take risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning. I have loaned the book to my 11-year-old son who started reading it. Unfortunately, he left it in his desk at school, so he has had a two-week break from it and will need to resume upon our return to school next week. I devoured this book, reading it in just a few days. Any chance I had, I picked it up to read. Each chapter led me excitedly into the next. For those who may not know, Odom premiered the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical. Reading his story of learning and growing his way through his career offered inspiration, as well as insight. It offered insight to me especially as an educator. We, as educators, make differences in the lives of students every single day. Reading stories such as Leslie Odom, Jr.'s hammer this point home. I have considered before the story of the starfish in my approach to education and my approach to collaboration with my peers. This offers another example. We, as teachers, will not necessarily have a strong, memorable impact on every single student who crosses the threshold of our classroom, but we will have an impact. 

Through the years, I have received notes and messages from students and parents that have warmed my heart and affirmed what I am doing as an educator. I appreciate feedback. I appreciate constructive criticism. I appreciate things that help me do what I do better. Sometimes, though, sometimes I need to hear that I am doing what I set out to do. I need to hear about the things I am doing right and that I am making a difference. So, along with reading books and magazines, newspapers and journals, I appreciate reading positive feedback from parents. Here is an example:
"But as a mom with a child who is 'out of the normal box' I applaud you for helping her learn and understand what everyone else in her grade is."

Though I am imperfect, I can embrace that and I can take the things I do well and carry them with me as I strive to do more and to do better.

Give a Listen

I absolutely love music. Although I have listened to more books and podcasts in recent months than before, I still need music in the car. On our last driving trip of 2018, we alternated between audio books and music. I created a 112 song roadtrip playlist at the end of the year. A variety of music is essential to me and my life. My daughter is a "country girl" with a few pop songs she likes and my son loves a little of everything. I, however, love music. Period. Some songs are more fitting for long drives than others. Our roadtrip mix includes everything from musicals, to older country music, to newer country music, to dance songs, to hard rock, to classic rock, and so much more. Music does amazing things. It motivates. It inspires. It teaches.

I started using Hamilton: An American Musical in my teaching in 2016. I am selective about the songs I use and how I use them. I incorporate them at appropriate times and the students typically soak it in and learn from it.

Other times, I use music in the background. This year, I have a class that loves to sing. Whether music plays or not, they sing, they hum. Music is a part of who they are. Sometimes I play classical/instrumental music as they work while others, I play songs that include lyrics and that the students know. In my prize box, I offer two levels of music rewards. Students can "purchase" individual music choice which means that they can listen to their own music using headphones. Alternatively, they can "purchase" class music choice and the student can select music for the class to listen to as they work. I, of course, have oversight (aka "veto power") and can help guide when the selections take place. These two reward options are new this year and have been received well. I believe music plays an integral part to learning. Though, I also recognize that background music in the classroom can play a positive role for some, but become a distraction for others. We must navigate music carefully and use it effectively. This is a lesson that I learned in 2018.

Side note here: my kids and I are excited to see Hamilton at the end of July in 2019! A parent helped make my Christmas gift to my kids become something extra special. She helped me create shirts. My son knew as soon as he saw the shirt while my daughter needed to see the certificate for the tickets to make it come into focus for her. My young children have an appreciation for history and know more about early American history at the time of the Revolution than many adults because of their appreciation for Hamilton. For that, I am thankful.

In 2018, I saw some great concerts, most notably: Shania Twain, Culture Club and the B-52s, and Metallica. I also saw two fantastic musicals: Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. (Get the idea of how eclectic my taste is now?) In 2019, I am seeing P!NK, NKOTB and others on the Mixed-Tape Tour, Hootie and the Blowfish with Barenaked Ladies in concert and I'm taking the kids to see Hamilton in its return to San Francisco. Music is life!

Adventures

In 2018, my son and I co-presented at two education conferences. This was a game-changer. To see this dream come to life was amazing. It has also given way to discussions and ideas that will flourish. I know they will. I keep the discussion to a minimum here and now, but stay tuned. My hope is that it will come alive over the next 12 to 18 months. What we do as educators requires the input of kids. How we impact the lives and learning of our students should absolutely include the voice of students. The more we include these students in the professional development of teachers, the more we can learn and grow.

Beyond the  professional development, one of the game-changers is the interaction we have with students. As a part of that, the engagement of students both in and out of the classroom will make a difference. So far this school year, I have done two hikes with students and families. These hikes made learning happen on weekends (one on a holiday) that cannot happen in the classroom.

Additionally, this year, my eighth grade class was included in a field trip with three other grade levels at our school. We visited a local salmon hatchery and then a park for lunch and a hike along the Merced River.

Highlights and Looks Ahead

Best book read: Failing Up by Leslie Odom, Jr.
Best series started: Harry Potter
Best App Added: Audible
Best family adventure: Atlanta, Georgia
Best TeacherMom Moment: Presenting with my son at ETC!
Best Eduawesome Adventure: Merced Hatchery
Best Lesson: Nazi Europe Unit study and graphic novel assignment
Best Personal Moment (Educator): Presenting My Leroy's Big Idea at CUE18
Best Personal Moment (Mom): Connor submitting a solo presentation proposal
Favorite Movie: A Wrinkle in Time
Favorite Movie Cliffhanger: Avengers: Infinity War
Favorite Television: This is Us and about anything on the Food Network
Big Adventure Ahead: Toss-up between Trip to Tennessee and Surfing Lessons in Capitola (both with kids)
What I'm reading: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King and Becoming by Michelle Obama
Music Event: P!NK
Musical: Hamilton
Field Trip: Steinbeck/Salinas trip with 8th grade (my annual favorite)
Favorite Video App: WeVideo
Favorite Classroom App: Google Classroom or Prodigy (Math)
What I love: My students and apps that play nicely with Google
What I strive for: Excellence
Goal for 2019: Be my best for the best of my kids (my children and my students)
My word: Empower
How to live: River


My daughter mastered riding a bike in 2018. For Christmas, Santa brought her a mountain bike. It has gears, hand brakes, and a kickstand. These are all new features for her. It also requires a little learning and ability to adapt. She was anxious to get out and try the new bike. She wanted to adapt and learn quickly. I can relate to this as I received an Instant Pot for Christmas. The idea of using a pressure cooker scares me. Well, scared me. I knew I didn't want to goof anything up because I knew I did not want my kitchen to explode and burn down. So, I had to jump in and give it a go. I needed to learn and set aside all fear.

Kiera's approach to the new bike and my approach to my new Instant Pot both proved successful. And now, it is time to take the same approach to education. We need to live fearlessly. We need to take risks. We need to invest in our students and give them our all. We need to not fear the pressure cooker. We need to not fear falling. We need to do our best for our students. We need to empower our students. We need to empower each other. We need to empower ourselves. All of this will lead us all down the road to an eduawesome adventure like no other. Are you ready? Let's ride!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Beyond the walls: passionate and connected educators

I have long advocated for breaking down the walls in instruction. We can do this both within the classroom and outside. This post is about something a bit different. This is about what it really means to be an educator, and more.

It has been months since I last posted. I did some writing as I worked on another, somewhat related, project at the start of the summer. Then, I stopped. I just stopped. I could feel something shifting and, to be honest, I got shoved way out of my comfort zone a couple of times. And then, magic started happening.

As summer came to a close and we entered the full swing of the school year, the shift continued. I jumped back into Twitter chats that I have missed for months, close to a year in some cases. I continued with the necessary shift taking place and my classroom and my students are better for it. I am better for it. Still, it was reconnecting with my PLN that really made a difference I could feel and experience in a more immediate way. When your bucket fills on a Monday night as you connect with TOSA Chat or your heart grows exponentially on a Thursday night with the DitchBook Chat, it just feels good. The more long-term changes resulting from the shift that started over the summer started giving me more tangible results as the first trimester went on. In the meantime, the short-term bucket fills and heart growth helped make the long-term things come to life as well.

So, for the first time in nearly six months, here I sit, reflecting. I planned to write about FallCUE a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, that has yet to happen. It, too, has been shifted. Let's take a look at what being an educator really means.

Stay with me here.

Teachers are Special People

We pour so much of ourselves into our classrooms and our students and our lessons. Someone recently said to me, "it takes a real passion to do what you do. Teachers have to be passionate people." If you ask a middle school teacher to describe kindergarten teachers, they will quickly say that kindergarten teachers are very special people who do extraordinary things. "I could never do it," will declare the middle school teacher. Then turn around and ask kindergarten teachers to describe middle school teachers. You will hear the same thing. "I could never do it," will declare the kindergarten teacher.

That says a lot right there. All teachers are special. All teachers are capable of doing extraordinary things. The patience demonstrated by the kindergarten teacher is quite similar to that of the middle school teacher, but the ages of the students are different and how that patience is practiced will vary.

But wait...there's more.

I am incredibly thankful for my extended PLN. In my PLN, I have  chance to connect with teachers across all grade levels, as well as TOSAs, administrators, and support staffers. I have worked in everything from SDC and resource in public schools to as a TOSA at a K-8 private school to in both small and large middle school classrooms. As such, I feel myself constantly wanting to learn more and be more and do more. My extended PLN allows me to do that. I have grown as a math and science teacher, especially, over the years. I thank my professional development opportunities for that.

But wait....there's still more.

It is about what we do outside of the classroom as much as what we do in the classroom. Who we connect with and how we learn and the extras we do will make long-term, meaningful impacts. While we may not see the ultimate impacts of the choices we make now, they will happen. And that is what has me reflecting tonight.

The Risk Effect

When I attended my second Spring CUE conference, I ventured out for the karaoke meetup. I had considered it the year before, but skipped it. This year, I was determined to go. When I attend Spring CUE, I have traveled by myself, I have stayed by myself, and I pretty much have paid my own way for every bit of it in one way or another. So, there was this CUE Karaoke thing happening in what was essentially a section of a hallway in the Renaissance Hotel. It was y second time attending the conference, so I knew faces better and I had started to connect with people on Twitter more. Still, I didn't REALLY know anyone. I texted back in forth with my best friend as I worked to select a song to sing. I don't sing well, but I love karaoke. I picked "Friends in Low Places." As I sang, I got more and more nervous, in part, because hardly anyone in the small crowd joined in with me. But, I did it. I took a risk. I did what we tell our students to do every day. Take a risk. The only failure is in not trying. Right? It sounds silly that it started with karaoke, but I was able to take things to the next level. I submitted a proposal to CapCUE's TechFest and presented there the following September. The following February, I was presenting at ETC! the education event put on by SCOE at Stan State. Less than a month later, I was back at Spring CUE and I ventured out for dinner by myself where I ended up eating dinner with a few educators from Bakersfield then we headed over to CUE Karaoke. I picked Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." I had no expectation of anyone singing along, but I was comfortable enough with myself and the song and life in general that I didn't care. And then, it happened. People sang with me. It was super rad, great fun! It all started with a risk.

Making Connections

Getting to know our students is imperative. Connecting with them provides us insight into how they think, what motivates them, and how we can better serve them. Finding out what kind of music a student likes can provide a wealth of knowledge about that student. Just the same about other interests such as sports, other extracurricular interests, friends, and such. I used to tell students, "I don't care if you like me. I do demand that you respect me." What I have come to realize over the years that what they likely heard was "I don't care" and everything after that was lost. And, the fact of the matter is, it is important to me as an educator to make connections and know my students. The person who recently said that educators are passionate about what they do is absolutely correct. We have to be passionate about what we do and who we serve. If I see a student is struggling to accomplish a given task, I will take the time to ask how we can tackle the issue. When a student is ready to give up on a math problem, I will turn their question around and have them explain it to me. When a student feels lost, I will do everything I can to lead them and then teach them how to lead. But it goes beyond that. I have attended water polo scrimmages, football games, confirmations, graduation parties, and stage performances for past and current students. I have seen faces light up because I was present for something that was important to them. I also use "optional field trips" on weekends or holidays to connect with students and their families. We meet for hikes or movies, but this year I am branching out some. We're doing a bigger hike, farther from home, and in December, a few of us are going to see A Christmas Carol in San Francisco. I am also looking at visiting the USS Hornet later in the year.  There are many wonderful opportunities in the world to expand our learning. And I will continue to do those things as long as I possibly can, no matter how old they get, no matter how old I get.

Being "kid-people"

Educators have to be in the business of kids. I know that. Still, it amazes and impresses me when someone does something super special for a kid, especially my kid. My kids and I do a podcast that we record irregularly, but are passionate about doing. We call ourselves the EdTech Family. We share this with anyone and everyone who will listen. It is a special thing for us. We also listen to education podcasts together. Well, one at least. (I listen to most others on my own.) The Check This Out Podcast has fascinated Connor for about three years and now that we spend more time in the car together on weekdays, both kids are hooked. Recently, Connor found their website and went on to record a message for Ryan and Brian. These two amazing educators took his recording and played it then talked about it in what ended up being about a two-minute segment on their recent episode. As we listened, Connor lit up. I teared up. The entire thing was completely beautiful, and appreciated beyond words.

Side note: Ryan is one of the people who led the charge for singing along with me at that karaoke a few years ago.

People-People

So, let me wrap this all up together.

Educators are special people. They go the extra mile. When that extends beyond the classroom, magic happens. When you get shoved outside of your comfort zone and there is someone there saying, "it's all good...ready, set, go..." Magic happens. The things we do for each other as educators makes a world of difference. The things we do for our students outside of the classroom makes a world of difference. The things we do for kids whether they are our students or not, makes a world of difference. Keep writing, keep recording, keep connecting, keep shining, keep existing, keep being in the business of people, of kids, of learning. Be passionate. We educators can be, should be, and are some of the most passionate people on this beautiful planet.

And to my educator friends, I thank you for all you are and all you do. I also want to remind you that every little thing you do matters and you are constantly making a difference. If you feel pushed out of your comfort zone and you're wondering where the magic is, I assure you, it is coming. Magic is happening and the lasting impact of everything you do may not be immediately evident, but you are making lasting impacts. There are people who appreciate what you are doing. Again, I thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

You are more than students, you are our kids

In November 2016, I wrote abut being the guide for my students. I wrote that I hoped for the best for my students and that they are why I do what I do. I shared that even my own children know this.

Today, as my children and I loaded into the car, I was buckling in my seven-year-old as I said, "my kids have pictures first thing this morning." She looked at me and said, "you're talking about our students, right?" "Yes," I replied. She knew. She and her brother have been students at the school where I teach since the start of this school year. She knows that they are my children and she knows that I consider my students "my kids."

Dear student,
You are more than a body in a classroom. You are more than a test score. You are one of my kids. I will look out or you. I will help you. I will guide you. My goal is not to set you up for failure, but to help you succeed. Let me guide you to success.

Ms. Remkiewicz

When I see something isn't working right, I adjust. If a timeline is too tight, I will look at it and, if necessary, change the deadline. If you need the materials to complete a task, I will make sure you have them. If you are frustrated because a costume isn't quite right, I will find you something that works. If you are cold, I will find a jacket for you. If you are hungry, I will feed you.

My students will not fail because I will not fail them. I will not fail them because they are my kids.

I am imperfect. I know this. I embrace this, in fact, each and every time I admit that I am perfect in my imperfections. However, I will always do everything I can to help a student on the road to success. I hope they know that. And, I hope they will take me up on my offer.

You need ingredients for the latest Kitchen Chemistry assignment? Tell me, Write me a list. I will provide what you need.

You are cold and can't find your jacket? Here's a sweatshirt.

You are hungry and don't have a snack today? Please, grab a cheese stick from the fridge.

You are working on a video and the app isn't working? Let's find a solution.

Your file won't upload? Let's look at it together?

You need a charger? Here, I don't use Apple products, but I bought this for you to use.

I am not setting you up for failure. I will set you up for success.

But, you do have to do your part. You have to ask. You have to be willing to accept help. You have to take your own steps. I can't walk the walk for you, but I will walk it with you.

I am preparing to send a graduation card to a student I had several years ago. He didn't need any of these guiding parts of what I do, but he appreciated every step I walked with him and he keeps in contact.

I made items available to former students so they could complete high school projects.

I will continue to do this and whatever else it takes to help students meet the successes they deserve.

My pay off?

Their learning. Their achieving. Their success. I love watching them bask in their own greatness. No material thing should ever stand in the way of a student's success. I will invest in every single one of my kids just as I would invest in my own children. Why? Because I am a teacher. I am an educator. I care. I love deeply. I guide. And, I am not alone. There are so many like me.

You are more than our students, you are our kids. I am thankful for the educators I know who live by this.

You are our tomorrow. Let us help you through today.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Up, up, up, and away...The first 24 hours at CUE18

I arrived at the Ontario Airport yesterday afternoon and grabbed my rental car so I could get myself to Palm Springs. I arrived earlier than hotel check-in, but they happily accommodated me and got me into my room. Everything has been smooth so far and for that, I am thankful.

A Groovy Kind of Love

I am thankful to once again have the opportunity to attend the Spring CUE Conference. Every year has provided a different experience for me and I knew coming into this year that this would be a unique experience in itself, and it is far more than the fact that the weather is cool and drizzly (though now the rain seems to have finished and moved on).

I very nearly decided to skip CUE this year. I've started looking at ways to reorganize my schedule and maximize my time. I want to be selective about when and where I go for PD while making sure that I am bringing back the best of everything I can for my students. If you've read my posts before, you know that I firmly believe that in making myself my best me, I will make my students their best selves as well. I love this conference, and I think I was looking for a "reason" to attend, a "sign," if you will. And then, the signs started popping up and I knew I had to be here. Matt Miller speaking at the opening keynote made me want to make the trip. Becoming part of the Central California CUE Board gave me a sense of obligation. I had made my hotel reservations last summer, so I was in good shape there. Then, I secured my slot, made my reservation for the conference. In the meantime, my class and I submitted a project idea for the 2018 Leroy Finkel Fellowship AKA Leroy's Big Idea. In February, I received notification that my idea had been selected as a finalist and now, I NEEDED to be in Palm Springs. And so, here I am.

I feel more connected this year than in previous years. The first year I attended, I came by myself. I ate by myself, I wandered the exhibition hall by myself. I slowly started talking to people, but for the most part, I was a loner. At the end of the conference, a friend met me and we spent the final evening celebrating my birthday before I returned home the next day. By the following year, I knew a few folks, but still traveled alone with the exception of my friend making part of the trip with me. We got an AirBNB and grocery shopped and settled in for the weekend. When she suddenly left after the first night, I was on my own. We did celebrate my birthday before her departure, but I spent most of the conference solo. Each year, though, I have made more contacts and worked on connecting myself with other educators from whom I can learn, but also with whom I can share. This year, I feel more myself than before. I spend time with people and take a few moments to myself.

Did I mention, I love this conference and love my CUE PLN? This year, CUE turns 40. It seems pretty groovy to be 40 and helping CUE celebrate its 40th anniversary. Of course, upon my return home, I will cruise over the line to 41.

Making connections and nurturing edu-relationships

Over the past few years, I have connected with more people. I have attended local education events and participated in education Twitter chats. Coming to CUE alone, yet feeling connected is such an awesome feeling. Dare I say, "eduawesome." It is here in Palm Springs that those relationships are nurtured and then allowed to continue to grow in other areas throughout the rest of the year. Now being a member of our local affiliate board has given me new insight to the importance of these edu-friendships. This year, I reached out to more people ahead of the conference and worked to make sure that I would connect with people once here. I am thankful I did that. My participation in the DitchBook chat (Thursday nights at 7 p.m Pacific Time) was a large part of my WHY for this year. Getting to meet Matt Miller could be seen as a "fangirl" moment, but what I realized was that I was excited to meet him for some of the same reasons I am excited to meet anyone from my PLN with whom I had not previously connected. Having these face-to-face moments with people I have collaborated with is important to me because the things we discuss, the ideas we share, and the benefit to our students are all very important matters.

Badges? We DO need stinkin' badges, trust me

For the second year, CUE is running a game where you can earn badges. Last year, I felt highly competitive and sought to WIN the game. This year, it was more about earning the badges and moving forward, connecting with people, and enjoying the conference on the whole. Let me tell you, I am not alone in enjoying gathering stickers and actually earning badges takes it to the next level. I have started digital badging in my class this year. I look forward to expanding my use of digital badges and hope to one day have stickers to go along with them. I started working on my CUE game accomplishments before I even got on the plane to come to the conference, as did others. I wrapped up a few accomplishments today and it felt good. Setting aside the competitiveness and focusing on a more well-rounded experience felt even better. I also got nurture relationships that were established last year, in part, because of this game.

If you haven't started the game yet, it's not too late. Give it a try. You may find some fun in it as well.



The second 24 hours at CUE will take me into my Leroy Finkel Fellowship presentation. I have invited as many people as I can to come check out all of the finalists and I have shared on social media. I think it will be a great afternoon and look forward to sharing it with some of my favorite people, other educators who, like me, have big ideas.

#cue18 #WeAreCUE #wheresmsrnow