Wednesday, June 7, 2017

From the Inside Out

Smiles plastered all over our faces.


Desks scrubbed, white boards cleared and grades in.  
Students said their good-byes, 
we breathed a long, releasing sigh.

School's out for the summer.  

The next school year has new surprises already lurking, trying to provoke uncertainty.  But, as Scarlet says, "We'll worry about that tomorrow."

Now, 
now is time to release, 
sip my coffee slowly,
on this almost summer, rainy morning,
decompress and reflect on this past year.



 The beginning of the year began with my heart in my hand as I once again said good-bye to my own children.  It's not easy for Momma when her own kiddos live far away.  

I usually teach my students all three years of middle school.  I already knew some potential challenges I was going to face.

Personnel in my department was changing and I didn't know how these changes would impact me and my time.  I'm one of those teachers that stay at school for about one to two hours after the kids go home.  With these new changes, I was afraid I might have to move in.  

Then you have the usual challenges of having to keep up with your regular obligations,  professional development and the surprises that pop up unexpectedly.

And, finally, saying "Adios" to dear friends and co-workers who are moving on, never easy for me.  

As you might already know, I filter everything through my personal faith.  It's the way I roll.  And, I must say, in spite of all the obstacles, my God has been faithful.  He guided and strengthened me every step of the way.  I learned a few lessons, had a few blessings, and made it through one more time.  For that, I am truly grateful!



LESSON LEARNED:  One major and important lesson I re-learned is contentment comes from the inside out.

 There are so many distractors in education.  Every day there's a new one threatening to take us off track, provoking discouragement.  All these things can steal from us the fulfillment we seek from our profession. 

 Education can be messy, it's not always neat and prescriptive.  It's a struggle.  Some days we're on top of the world, making strides and feeling as if we are making a difference.  Then other days it feels as if we are literally fighting against gravity.  But, we cannot really measure our full contribution from one day to the next because education is a process, it's not a moment.  Education doesn't just happen,
it's developed.  

For my professional development goal this year I chose to learn about how to help students reflect on their learning.  I took it one step further and worked on reflecting on my teaching and my daily do's.  I purchased the book, "Mindsets in the Classroom" by Mary Cay Rici.  I learned a lot about how our thinking about what we need to learn directly impacts our success.  I learned how we as teachers can self-jeopardize progress because of our own fixed mindsets.  So, I decided to work on changing some of my own mindsets and go-to reactions.


Here are some mindsets I changed:

-Some days I decided to just "shake things off" rather than dwell in uncertainty.

-Other days I decided to keep my comments to myself.

-Some days I decided to go with my professional opinion even if it wasn't popular.  

-I chose to listen, really listen, and learn.

-I chose, to be honest about my shortcomings because they're there even though I don't always care for others to know.

-I sometimes decided to move "urgent things to do" to "important, can wait until tomorrow".

-I chose to breathe and assess before working myself up because things have a way of working themselves out.


Changing from the inside out made a difference for me this year in how I view my role and how I view what I do.  I am a teacher.  And, no, it may not be one of the highest paying careers, it may not be the most admired, and it may not be everything I thought it would be, but it is who I am.
It is who I'm called to be.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I'M NOT GOOD AT GOODBYES

It's around this time of year when we begin to find out who is retiring, moving away, transferring, or simply not coming back next year.  Let's just say I like things to stay the same.  It's a flaw, I know, especially in these times where the only thing that remains constant is change.  (Hence, the title of my blog, "In Transition".)

I've been teaching at the same school since 2003.  Before then I taught at the same school for ten years.  When you're at a school for an extended amount of time the people you work with become your academic family.  Together you experience the good and the bad, the ups and downs.  You mourn and celebrate together, personal and professional
experiences.  
Last week I learned three teachers are moving on in my department alone.  That's not counting my two pod mates that belong to other departments. 
I must admit I was taken.  

I would say, within the last three to five years, major changes started to hit.  Dear colleagues, friends, framily, began to leave.  This year proves the changes are still a constant. And, when people begin to move on, grow, take risks, you wonder, "What about me?"  

It's easy, very easy, to compare your own situation with everyone else's,
"Should I be taking risks, moving on, too?"
 I further realized the manner in which my own situation will be different as people move on.   
It's both exciting and challenging at the same time.
New people will be coming on board with more or less knowledge of what they're about to embark in.  We'll need to establish boundaries and find our working ways.  

Theoretically, it's a new opportunity to grow by helping and mentoring.  However, in all practicality, it doesn't always work out that way or it's not always received that way.  I guess the unknown is always a mystery.
I'm a faith girl.  I filter all of my stuff through my faith and my beliefs.  It's my criteria if you will, 
my constant in the middle of a changing world.  
As I reflect on what does all of this mean for me, 
I realize that my situation is in fact mine.  
Everyone has to do what is right for them, 
and I must caution myself from making decisions based on the circumstances of others.  

I'm reminded of the animal kingdom.  
Some species thrive in an environment for a season then they must migrate to another when the seasons change.  I suppose it might work the same way for us.

We should bloom in our designated places at our designated seasons.  

For me this means, I continue to bloom and flourish where I am for such a time as this. For others, it means they must move to new environments with new assignments and new mountains to conquer.  As much as I'm going to miss them all, I fully understand and wish them much success and happiness.

And, furthermore, and probably most importantly, my faith reminds me, that I am not alone.

 God is with me.  

He is with me always.  
He's not going anywhere!  
I'm no longer taken, the news is sinking in. 
Things work out in the end, and a new day is coming.  And, when it does, we will welcome it with all the tension and awkwardness it promises, 
because before long, it will become the new normal.  


Sunday, March 12, 2017

De-Stressing During the Day

That moment the bell rings, the show starts.  It's not a show with imaginary characters doing imaginary feats.  No, it's real.

We are ready. We've planned, we've given the tests, collected and analyzed the data, collaborated with our colleagues, tweaked what didn't work, added what we believe will be exciting
 and engaging additions to our deliveries.  We've been to the workshops, professional development, created the word walls, anchor charts, bulletin boards, and class signs.  We've strategically organized the flow, seating charts, table arrangements, spent all or our money on extra student supplies, baskets, laminators, paper, and we can't forget the index cards.  Our strategies are ready, chart paper, markers, reflection tickets, the works.  We've checked that our computers are all running, document camera, sound system, LCD projectors are working.  (They better!)  And what about the remotes?  Batteries?  Better not forget to re-charge the batteries!

I think the drift is clear.  It's a massive production we deliver 5 to 6 times a day.  

Even with all of the preparation and anticipation, we can't plan for the unexpected.  Every day is an adventure if you will. We don't know who will be absent and will miss it all, then we have to do it all over again for that one student the next day, along with the next day's production.  Or, we don't know which student will come in with the world on his or her shoulders and is present, but not present.  Or, we don't know if an emergency drill will go off, or if an assembly was scheduled, but you didn't get the email.  Or, the students forgot to report to the computer lab, and 15 minutes of your 50-minute production, gone.

So many things can and do interfere with the plan.  All this can cause a teacher to perhaps wonder, "What's the point?"  Everything works perfectly in theory, but not on my reality show.  

I've had days, and I'm sure you have as well, where I arrive at work at 7 something in the morning and I run around doing my thing the entire day without a moment to stop and rest.  When I get home in the evening, later than anticipated, I have expended all of my energy with none less for anything else.  Decompressing throughout the day is not an option for me, it's my lifeline.


My Daily Life Savers.

ROUTINES

1.  It takes some time at the beginning of the year to establish class routines, but once they are set, they are worth their weight in gold.  For my classes, our most important routine is the "Walk In" routine.  So much can happen within the four-minute transition from one period to the next.  Lingering students with important questions need your attention, your bladder needs your attention, and let's not forget we must be standing by our doors for hallway supervision.  Yes, we do it all in four minutes.   If your "walk in" routine is not ironclad, the beginning of each period can set the tone for even more interference with the production.

My recommendation, be all present and intentional when greeting students as they walk in the door and monitor their "walk in" tasks.  In a secondary setting, we only have 4 minutes between classes to check an email or do that one important thing.  If we are distracted on the computer while students walk in we are giving the message that we are not fully present.  That can cause a rough start to class and everything can go downhill from there.

I also have rotation routines, dismissal routines, turning in work routines, book check-out routines. The routines become habits so ingrained in the students that when one student struggles to follow the routine, the other students become the monitors.  Less work for me -

NUTRITION
2.  Snacks, lunch, and my coffee mug are also my life lines.  I can get lost in what I have to do and
forget I have to eat.  If I'm not careful, I'll say, "let me do this one thing during my lunch break" and before I know it my next class is walking in.  When I don't eat, by fifth period I'm feeling it.  I don't accustom to eat in front of my students, so snacking is one more thing I try to sneak in during my 4 minute transition time.  Lunch can't be on the sidebar.  When I eat something substantial, I don't feel so worn out at the end of the day.  Not to mention the smile that comes across my face when I see my favorite energy bar, coffee mug or snack.  It's really all about the small things.

QUICK-WALKS
3.  Quick-walks is a new thing for me this year.  I teach 5 consecutive classes with only a 30-minute lunch break in between.   Sometimes I get cabin fever.  If the kids walk in at 9:30 and I work through my lunch, I don't see the light of day until 4 or 5 pm.  Another drainer!  What I decided to do this year is to eat my lunch in 20 minutes then change into my walking shoes and walk around the school track for 10 minutes.  My blood flows a little better, I get a little fresh air and sunlight, and I have a moment to reflect and relax before my next two productions. I don't always have the time to walk every day, but I try to squeeze it in two or three times a week.   

SETTING BOUNDARIES
4.  One of my life-saving mantras is:  I WORK AT SCHOOL, I LIVE AT HOME, therefore, NO
MANDATORY SCHOOL WORK GOES HOME!  This one took me years to learn and to figure out how to manage.  Years ago I took mountains of papers to grade and teacher edition monster books home to plan.  My weekends were cluttered with my own personal chores and school work.  This can really cause burnout.  I decided a few years ago that I had to compartmentalize.  My solution?  

First of all, I don't grade everything.  I look at everything, verbally comment on tasks, but I don't itemize everything.  I can't!  I've created routines for which work I will grade and which work I will review.  I also don't give individual work on a day to day basis.  My units are organized in packets.  Students have multiple days to complete packets.  I
don't grade anything from one day to the next.  When packets are due, I have already set out the time in my schedule for grading.  It may be during computer lab time or during my planning, but not during my personal de-stress time.  Do I get inspired to create an activity at home?  Do I research themes and hone in on my own professional development at home?  Of course.  Do I work on my education blog?  Yes. There is not a complete separation of school and home. However, I do put up boundaries so that school does not take over my entire life.  

ENCOURAGEMENT

5. Teachers are givers.  I'm sure this is true for many professions, but it is certainly true for educators. We empty ourselves every day, pouring into our students, helping families and colleagues, alike.  Too often, the withdrawals far outweigh the deposits.  
One simple compliment from another colleague or student can energize me as if the sun itself shined just for me. Too often teachers are so burnt out, that encouragement is the least thing they want to give to another colleague.  The burden is so heavy, what they need most is to release their heaviness to anyone who will listen.  I totally get it; as they say, "the struggle is real".

However, making someone else's day can enrich our day just as much as someone else's.  A smile, a verbal or written compliment, an inexpensive or DIY gift, all can lift the countenance of a fellow educator having a rough day.  Yes, I know, there are some colleagues who will not receive our encouragement, our compliment, or even our smile.  I've been there, too.  But, let's not let the non-takers ruin it for the takers.  There will always be someone on your campus who needs support.  Even the smallest gesture can mean the world to someone else. 

De-stressing is necessary for anyone working in a profession where you're "on" for extended amounts of time.  Burn-out is difficult to avoid, but there certainly are things we can do to keep it at bay.  

If you have a great idea for de-stressing during the day, I'd love to for you to share.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Substitute Support

I've had more substitutes lately than I normally do.  I'm usually in class every day and rarely need a sub.  However, recently I've had to be out of my class for reasons beyond my control.  I've been working, but not in my class.  This is always stressful.  Every teacher knows that it's more work to be out.  But, that's not the only factor stressing me out.  Every teacher also knows that our students need us to be consistent in our own attendance.  This helps student progress and it provides consistent classroom management.