Sunday, February 25, 2018

February Reflections

Since I began blogging last summer, I started paying more attention to what other bloggers wrote about, noticing their content, how their information was shared, and how I could emulate that. Long before I tried blogging I followed blogger and author Ruth Ayres, who I have admired as a writer for some time now. Ruth Ayres has a lovely, exquisite writing voice, and I am always eager to read what she notices and shares. I am especially grateful that she invites other bloggers to celebrate, providing a space to share blog link ups. Sharing my writing continues to be uncomfortable and scary. I continue to find myself in a bit of a frazzle each time I publish my writing in a blog post.

Last month Ruth wrote a post about creating a Heart Map reflecting on her month of January. Of course her post is incredibly inviting and I adored her idea of reflecting on a whole month using a format of a Heart Map. I have been Heart Mapping in my notebook for a while now, but it was almost always based on one idea or after one day. Before Ruth's post, I had not considered Heart Mapping based on the reflection of a whole month (or extended period). As I paged through my journal, I noticed so many things that were worthy of celebrating.This is what February’s Heart Map looked like for me:

February Heart Map (apologies for the poor quality of this image)  

Based on my February Heart Map, there are two things that I wanted to especially celebrate this month:

1. Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) Convention 2018
I had the honor to present twice at the WSRA Convention this year. For one of the presentations I was invited to present with Dr. Cathy Compton-Lilly on some of the work that I have been doing with Retrospective Miscue Analysis (RMA) with a few of my high school students. Although I have presented at state and local conferences before, I was really intimidated to lead a presentation with Dr. Compton-Lilly, especially since it was a packed conference room. It was humbling to share what I’ve learned about RMA with over one hundred educators and answer questions.
Our conference room sign 
I also presented with my dear friend and brilliant colleague, Abbie Blood. When I was in my role of a secondary district literacy coach in my district I worked with Abbie as often as I could. Abbie and I learned how to use effectively use mentor texts with high school juniors. Our presentation was a celebration of our process, our purpose, the excitement of the difference in quality of our student writers, and how this continues to be a journey of learning for us. Abbie and I presented to a small group of about thirty educators, but they were so engaged and eager to try some of the ideas that Abbie and I presented. After the presentation Abbie shared with me, “I felt so validated as a teacher. I love that there are other people who are interested in this kind of work.”

Our first presentation slide

2. Student Celebration
Recently, I was working on goal setting with my ninth and tenth grade classes using a strategy called WOOP, a strategy used for teaching students to better use self-regulation skills. I invited each student to select one academic goal to work on for Quarter 3. Many of my students set goals such as, “I will complete all of my homework on time in Science” or “I will use my time wisely in math class.” Two weeks later I conferred with each student about his or her goal. One of my sophomores, Nathan (a pseudonym), created a goal about reading. As we were conferring, Nathan quietly said to me, “I heard that you help kids read. Do you think that you could help me read better?” This blew me away. I have never had a student ask me this before. The next week I scheduled a time to meet with him, and we started working on RMA together. I did not expect that using a goal setting strategy and conferring would provide this opening with Nathan.

As my daily writing practice usually includes a Haiku, here is a double Haiku about my February gratitude that I wrote after I completed my Heart Map :

Stuck in negative
Self-talk spooling in my mind,
Yet good surrounds me.

Celebrating joy -
A practice worthy of time
I must continue.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taking Care of Myself: Challenging but Worthy Work

I was introduced (okay thrown) into the world of At-Risk Education this year. In my nearly eighteen years of teaching, I have always taught students who fall into the category of at-risk or what I like to call underserved students. However, I have never had such a high concentration of underserved students in one class (several classes a day) at once.

It has been really challenging work.

Many (actually, most) of my underserved high school students are incredible human beings. Yet many of them have not yet experienced success in our traditional school system. I assume that for many of my underserved students it is easier to say, “I don’t care” or not show up (mentally and or physically) because it feels safer than trying and taking the risk of feeling like a failure. Again.

I especially yearn for each of my underserved students to find success in school, as I know that the more education he or she receives, it is more likely that he or she will experience a better overall standard of living as adults.

It has been really challenging work.

I often take my role as a teacher and mentor so personally, especially when one of my students does not make good academic or behavioral choices. As many of my colleagues, I carry my students’ stories, their comments, and their conversations far beyond the traditional classroom walls. I’ve thought a lot about some of the heart-wrenching experiences my students have shared with me. I’ve privately written about many of my students. I’ve prayed for my students. I’ve wondered and worried about my students when they don’t show up for school or permanently leave our school community. It is painful.

It has been really challenging work.

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to learn from Lucas Jadin, educator and team member of Train2BeClutch. Lucas was powerful and engaging as a speaker, and I especially appreciated how he was vulnerable with our staff. He reminded me that so many people fear failure or not being enough of who we feel that we need to be. (Trust me, I certainly struggle with this.) Later I emailed him to thank him for what his work taught me and also as a plea for more suggestions of how I could better meet the needs of my underserved students. One of the responses Lucas shared with me was this:

Take care of yourself. Most of those kids do not even have close to a stable adult in their life. Just being the best version of yourself is a huge win for the kids.

Lucas’s response has lingered with me all week. As a mom, wife, friend, Girl Scout co-leader, and teacher, I often put myself last. Dead last.

But I realized that I am already doing worthy things to take care of myself. These things all help me to take care of myself and show up as a better human being, even when I am having a bad day.

For me, each day I strive to do these four things:

  • I write. Every day. My writing is usually not worth publicly sharing, but it helps me to get the yuck out of my day. It is a space only for me. When I started making daily writing a priority, I realized that I became more reflective and responsive to my family and students and to myself. Writing is often how I wrestle with what bothers me the most. 
  • A glimpse of this morning's writing
  • I read. Stories often help me escape and distract my busy mind. Reading was what often got me through hard times in adolescence and as an adult. I need escape in a safe and healthy way. This past January and part of February I read Cutting for Stone, a book that was on my to-read list for years. As my friend Sam once shared with me, it would be a story that would suck me in. It did, and it even helped me consider medicine and healing and surgery in a radically different way.
  • I walk. Although I often walk to get more exercise for myself and my dogs, it is an easy way to clear my head. I often enjoy the quiet and peace I experience on walks. Sometimes walking is the only time I can find time without anyone else with me. 

Here is one of my walking buddies
  • I meditate. Okay, I’m working on meditating. When I find time to meditate, my body feels more relaxed. I show up as a better human being to my family and friends and students. I recently started using an App called Headspace to help get into the practice of meditating more.
None of these four practices cost me any money. They take little stretches of time, something that is more manageable for me to accomplish.

Whether I am in the role as a mom, wife, teacher, or leader, I am constantly working on being a better human being. It has been really challenging work. But worthy work.

Ultimately, I need to make sure that I take care of myself.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

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