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!


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!