Sunday, November 30, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside (LilyPad style)

Lilypad with conductive thread by sameerhalai, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  sameerhalai 

In a previous post, I shared the first musical composition that I coded for my LilyPad, a lullaby that I used to sing to my daughter.  Over the weekend, I sat down and started coding the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," to get myself in the holiday spirit!  I used this frequency chart to match the notes on the sheet music.  Ideally, I'd like to create a scarf that plays this song and flashes multicolored lights when the temperature dips.

I haven't yet figured out how to program lights to flash in sync with my music, but that is next on my list.  Here is the code that I wrote.

The video is less than thrilling, but you can hear how my song is progressing.  I would appreciate any feedback you might have.

Kindness Pays (30 Day Blogging Challenge #30)

Today's (Nov 30) prompt:

Practice an act of kindness this week and blog about your experience.

Today is the last day of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge!  To celebrate, I'm going to keep this post short.

Yesterday, while on the prowl for a parking spot in downtown Burlington, a car was preparing to leave just as I was driving in to the lot.  My surge of joy was temporarily squashed when I noticed that another car, one that had pulled in before I had, was already waiting there, preparing to back into the spot that had come open after he'd driven past.

It would have been easy (and incredibly Grinch-like) to snatch the spot, but I backed up to let the person in the other car capture the spoils.

Surprisingly, the person opted not to take it and drove away, leaving my friend and me with a conveniently located spot, with a "free" sign covering the meter!

Here's to kindness, good karma, and a call to pay it forward.

Ignite a Maker

For the months of December and January, thanks to an Ignite a Maker Grant, I am going to be making a concerted effort to focus on my soft circuit and e-textile skills!

My first goal is to complete a small e-textile project before Thursday, December 18th, so that I'll be prepared to share something at the Generator's next Third Thursday Social, which will be focused upon wearables.

Between Lucie's hat and Leah's jingly sweater (still in development), the gauntlet has definitely been thrown!

To see pictures from the event, visit this post from the Ignite a Maker blog.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

3 Inspiring People (30 Day Blogging Challenge #29)

Today's (Nov 29) prompt:

We all know someone who inspires us to be better. Share that person.

There are many people who inspire me to be better, so rather than selecting one person to write about, I would rather identify three specific traits in three different people that I find particularly inspiring.

1.  I admire my husband, Chris, for the way that he always manages to put our family first whenever he is at home.  He doesn't seem to have any difficulty separating his professional and personal lives, which is something that I continue to work on.

2.  I admire my best friend, Aubrey, for being so good at committing to a healthy lifestyle.  Not only does she teach full-time and tend to her loved ones, but she exercises and eats right, which is something that I need to do better.

3.  I admire my daughter, Audrey, for the way that she makes time for pleasure reading and creative writing.  I tend to gravitate toward informational text and quick blog posts, but it's reading and writing poetry and fiction that get my creative juices flowing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Way Opens (30 Day Blogging Challenge #28)

Today's (Nov 28) prompt:

Talk about one opportunity that you are grateful in hindsight for having passed you by.

Behind Door Number Three by anyjazz65, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  anyjazz65  
"There is as much guidance in way that closes behind us as in way that opens up ahead of us. The opening may reveal our potentials while the closing may reveal our limits—two sides to the same coin, the coin called identity."  Parker Palmer
I'm not sure that I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that new opportunities often present themselves when others disappear.  Although I am not always easily consoled by that wisdom when my heart is broken, or when I feel like I wasn't the chosen one, I am comforted by the Quaker expression that "way opens."  As reality dictates, in a world that does not revolve around our individual wants and desires, way doesn't always take us down the paths we might imagine for ourselves.
When a position I was interested in applying for this summer was filled without being advertised, I was disappointed.  Because I'd waited for a posting, rather than being more proactive, I felt like I'd missed out on an opportunity. With the benefit of hindsight, I am grateful that I've had this year to continue learning and teaching in new ways that I might not have otherwise done.  Having the time has increased my schedule's flexibility, giving me more opportunities to try new things and travel with my husband. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bottling Up Perfection (30 Day Blogging Challenge #27)

Today's Prompt:  Nov 27 

If you could bottle up the perfect day, what would it look like?

As luck would have it today has been a perfect day, wrapped in gratitude and punctuated with a mid-day nap.

It looked like family gathered around a bountiful table, with a view of a snow-filled meadow.  

It smelled like baked turkey, gravy, and bourbon sweet potatoes, and it tasted like red wine, pumpkin pie, and whipped cream.  

It sounded like laughter and felt as cozy and comforting as the heat emanating from a wood burning stove.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Small Pleasures (30 Day Blogging Challenge #26)

Today's prompt (Nov 26):

Write about any 3 small pleasures in your life/day.

I love sitting on my couch with my dog curled up next to me while I drink my morning coffee!

I love spending time playing in my studio.

I love meeting my best friend at Martone's for a hot beverage every Friday afternoon.

Letting Go (30 Day Blogging Challenge #25)

Nov 25's (belated) prompt:

What would you like to let go of?

Learn to let go. That is the key to happ by deeplifequotes, on Flickr

Since this is such a personal prompt, and because I feel like I've already beaten this topic to death in previous posts related to issues of balance, introversion, and cultivating self-compassion, I'm going to go in a slightly different direction.

  • I'd like to let go of a few extra pounds and some of the junk cluttering up my studio.
  • I'd like to let go of my mom jeans, my vacuum cleaner from 1995, and my obsession with wiping the crumbs off of the kitchen counter (while people are still working).
  • I'd like to let go of disappointment and replace it with gratitude. 
              just maybe...
                                   I'd like to let go of my need to feel prepared and replace it with serendipity.

Hopes for the Future of Education (30 Day Blogging Challenge #24)

November 24's (belated) prompt:

What are your dreams for education in the future?

I am including an interactive image that I created for a graduate course I took last year, because it addresses this question well.  

Attitude of Gratitude (30 Day Blogging Challenge #23)

Nov. 23's (belated) prompt:

How did your Attitude of Gratitude work out? - tell us about it.

In a previous post, I was asked to reflect on ways that I could bring an attitude of gratitude to my school or classroom.  In that post, I shared examples of ways that expressing gratitude improves human relationships.

Working as a substitute teacher has offered plenty of opportunities to express gratitude to students that I may not have yet developed a relationship with. Taking a moment to make eye contact with students after class, and identifying something specific that they did to help me out, makes their faces light up just about every time.

Family Traditions (30 Day Blogging Challenge #22)

Nov. 22's (belated) prompt:

What are the family traditions you are most grateful for?

At this time of year, I am reminded of how much I love sharing a meal with my extended family on Thanksgiving. 

Before the guests arrive, my husband, daughter, and I all pitch in to help.  We start by doing a thorough cleaning of our house (many hands make light work), and then we each contribute something to the meal.

Aside from the pleasure of eating baked turkey, and watching my husband roll out the crust for his famous pumpkin pie, my favorite family tradition is making homemade dinner rolls with my daughter (the way that my mother used to do with me).

Today, I am grateful for family, food, and the opportunity to pause and take notice of the snowflakes that are starting to fall outside of my window.  With the snow comes yet another family tradition:  getting a Christmas tree.

Book Recommendations (30 Day Blogging Challenge #21)

Nov. 21's (belated) prompt:

List a book you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.

In a previous prompt, I mentioned how Parker Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach, has helped me to be better about listening to my inner teacher, rather than living a divided and unbalanced life.

Once again, I would like to recommend this book to anyone who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, or any of the other harbingers of burn out.

The other titles that have helped me to reflect upon my practice, as well as my life in general, are both written by Brene Brown.  They are Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.  Both of these books have changed my teaching and my outlook on life in ways too complex to articulate.

Give Yourself a Break (30 Day Blogging Challenge #20)

Nov. 20's (belated) prompt:

What is one life lesson that you are thankful for having learned?

One life lesson that I continue to learn is the importance of self-compassion.  As a recovering perfectionist, I often find myself obsessing over details and doing what Brene' Brown refers to as "hustling for worthiness." From the conversations I've had with others on this subject, I know that I am not alone.  

Three years ago, Dr. Ken Bergstrom shared some indelicate words of wisdom with me, which I have quoted here:

Over time, I have been learning to let go of the need for perfection in exchange for cultivating self-compassion.  Just because I've learned the lesson doesn't mean that I don't need constant reminders. Thankfully, Ken's words help me remember that we are all human and are doing the best we can.

Thanks! (30 Day Blogging Challenge #19)

Nov. 19's (belated) prompt:

Tell someone you know how grateful you are for the work they do.  Share your story here.

When pondering this prompt, I instantly had several ideas come to mind, but then I started over-thinking it.  As a result, I've decided to to briefly thank two people rather than share an elaborate story.  

I am grateful for the work that +Lucie deLaBruere does to bring a variety of different people together to learn in a collaborative, inspiring way.  Lucy, I admire you for the way that you work to provide opportunities for others.  The positive energy that you share, and the way that you give so much of yourself for the benefit of educators and students, impacts so many lives.  I am inspired by your leadership.

I am grateful for the work that +Joyce Babbitt does to bring creativity and a passion for reading to students.   Joyce, I admire you for making things happen (and for making it look so easy).  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chromebook Fun: Formative Assessment

As I gear up for a long-term subbing job, teaching ninth graders world history, my focus over the past couple of weeks has been creating activities and formative assessments for students.  Here are several quick examples that I've created on a Chromebook.

1.  PowToon 
In this example, I've created a PowToon presentation to showcase a debate between two Enlightenment thinkers.  I like the idea that this tool can be used to help students frame a conversation between historical characters. Another thing that I really appreciate about this tool is that students can easily access Creative Commons licensed images and easily copy a link to add to a Works Cited page.  I added the music using YouTube video editor.  Since I am using the free version of PowToon EDU, the resolution is not fantastic.  

2.  Fake Text Generator

This text generator tool would be a great formative assessment tool, providing an engaging way for students to demonstrate their understanding.  In my example, two historical characters engage in a quick conversation about their political views.  This would be a great warm up or exit activity.   

3.  Padlet Wall
In this example, I have created a Padlet wall to invite students to share their imaginary text messages.  I love the way I am able to embed a Padlet onto a Google Site and moderate all comments before they appear there.

4.  ToonDoo
Students can create cartoons at and embed them to a blog or website or save an image to their computer for other projects.


5.  Flippity Quiz: European History Review 
In my last example, I have linked to a Jeopardy-style quiz that I created using  I learned about this from Richard Byrne's blog and put it immediately to use.  I envision using this as an in-class review for students, but I could easily give them the link to practice on their own, or better yet...invite them to create their own review games and digital flashcards!  (Note:  Unlike a Google Slide Jeopardy template, you cannot arrow back on a Flippity quiz if you make a mistake. I also discovered that reducing the number of columns causes the template to stop working correctly.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Collegiality Unlimited (30 Day Blogging Challenge #18)

Today's prompt:

What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

Since I am not currently working under a contract, I started thinking about the beloved people that I used to work with when I initially read this prompt.  I actually felt a pang of loss that tempted me to skip this post altogether. Then, the more I started thinking about it, I gratefully realized that I didn't have to access experiences from my past in order to answer this question.

I am still connected to other educators through my PLN. While I have worked closely and personally with some of these colleagues, and casually connected with others through coursework and conferences, a surprising deal of my interactions with colleagues these days has been limited to social media.  

I am not suggesting that casual conversations and exchanges of information via Twitter or Google+ can replace the deep personal relationships that are forged when people work alongside each other in the same school, but I am nonetheless grateful to my colleagues near and far for sharing their thoughts and ideas.  

I appreciate the fact that I can share a human connection with other educators that I may not have actually met, rather than wallowing in isolation.  Collegiality is no longer limited by proximity.  How great is that?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Change is Good (30 Day Blogging Challenge #17)

Today's prompt:

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for...

Last year at this time, I learned that my long-term subbing job at a local middle school was turning into a one-year position.  While I'd been grateful for the opportunity to work in that school for any length of time (it was a welcoming place with great people), I was delighted to learn that I'd been asked to stay for the entire year.  Although that year went by much too quickly, I am grateful for the unexpected creative outlets that have since come my way, allowing me to teach and learn from different audiences this year.

In October, after some encouragement from +Lucie deLaBruere , I taught a "Spooky Circuit Box" workshop at our local Tech Jam at the Generator.  This January I will be partnering with her to teach a bookbinding/ circuitry workshop geared toward getting more girls excited about technology!  I am thrilled to be doing this, because it will allow me to purposefully merge my passions and interests while working alongside someone I deeply respect and admire.

Another inspiring change that has come my way this year was an invitation to create animated seasonal station IDs for RETN, our local television network. While my work is still in draft form, the process of making revisions and receiving feedback from experts has been a fun and rewarding (with a steep learning curve).  I am also excited to be teaching a class there in either January or February.  Partnering with RETN is helping me build new skills while providing a creative focus.  I am grateful to +Doug Dunbebin  for providing me with a unique opportunity to share my dorky love of Do Ink apps with adults!

This is a sneak peak at one of the video shorts that I've been working on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Power of Connectivism (30 Day Blogging Challenge #16)

Today's prompt:

What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator? What are you grateful for?

While reading the book, The Connected Educator:  Learning and Leading in the Digital Age, I was introduced to the term connectivism (a learning theory first introduced by George Siemens in 2004).  I was struck by the idea that technology is not only changing the ways in which we learn, but the ways that we define knowledge and the learning process itself.

The most powerful aspect of being a connected educator is that I have the world at my fingertips and on my own schedule!  I can learn about anything I want to learn about at any time, and I can actively see what other teachers around the world are doing to make learning more relevant and engaging for their students.  Since I am not currently working under a contract, I am grateful for the ability to stay connected with other educators and keep a pulse on changing trends in public education. 

I love the way that being a connected educator allows me to share my thoughts and ideas, as well as exploring the ideas and creations of others.  I am grateful that crowd sourcing invites diverse people to create knowledge together in ways that were previously not possible.

Tools Glorious Tools (30 Day Blogging Challenge #15)

Today's prompt:

What tech tools are you most grateful for? Why? How have they changed what you do?

In a previous post, I addressed this question in terms of five favored tools that I've frequently used with students.  While I got very specific in that post, I sort of overlooked the obvious.

As a result, I'd like to re-frame the question here to identify tools that are not only useful in a classroom setting, but those that have become so integrated with my life that I have nearly taken them for granted.

I am especially grateful for Google tools, such as Drive, Docs, Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Sites, and Google+.  Both personally and professionally, these tools have drastically improved my efficiency and ability to communicate, create, collaborate, and curate.

I'd also like to give a huge shout out to Diigo, my favorite social bookmarking tool.  It has become an extension of my memory, allowing me to save, tag, and organize interesting links as I encounter them.  I love the way that my favorite tweets* (the ones that I mark with a star) magically appear in my bookmarks! What a great way to collect, share, and quickly access words of wisdom and other juicy gems.        

Thanks also go to my favorite iPad creation apps, which have inspired me to explore, play, and express myself in new ways.

My favorites currently include:

Pic Collage
Do Ink Green Screen app
Do Ink Drawing & Animation app
Garage Band

*I'm saving my thoughts on the beauty of Twitter for an upcoming post.

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Lessons I'm Glad I Learned (30 Day Blogging Challenge #14)

Today's prompt:

List five things you are grateful to have learned in your teaching career.

1.  Students remember more about the stories we share and the way we've made them feel than they do about the grades they've received, the lessons we've planned, or how hard we worked.  

2.  Practicing self-compassion for your own shortcomings and mistakes can make you a more compassionate human being and a better teacher.

3.  Taking care of yourself is a non-negotiable if you want to care for students and be effective in the classroom.

4.  Achieving synergy with a collaborative partner is rare, but magical.

5.  Inspiration is only a click or a tweet away.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Time Out (30 Day Blogging Challenge #13)

Today's prompt:

What do you do to take time out for yourself?

One of the themes that I repeatedly see in blogs penned by teachers is a desire to strike more of a balance between one's personal and professional lives.   By the end of my first five years of teaching my fire was, in the words of my collaborative partner at that time, "burning too hot."  Doing what I'd perceived to be quality work meant so much that I ended up neglecting my inner teacher, squashing my creative spirit, and feeling indescribably inadequate.  Add a father in failing health, a daughter growing up way too fast, and abandoned hobbies, and I was on a collision course with burnout.  

For years, I had struggled to find and maintain a balance that felt good to my soul.  At one point, I remember asking a mentor how long into my career it would be before I finally had it all figured out, and could balance things.  When she looked me in the eye and said, "It never gets easier,"  I knew I was doomed.  The trouble was that I didn't know at that time that what I was feeling wasn't uncommon.  I didn't know that my exhaustion was normal, and that there were real strategies and systems of support that could help energize and refresh me, changing the way that I feel and think about my calling.  For the past three years, Northeast Courage and Renewal has been an outlet for me, a tribe doing the best they can to practice gratitude, self-acceptance, and an appreciation for the here and now.
quack by Swiv, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Swiv 

Although I frequently lapse into old habits when I am working full time, I am far more likely to remember self-compassion when I am feeling overwhelmed by a never ending to-do list.  I am better at prioritizing.  I am more forgiving of myself when I recognize that I have given all I can.  I allow myself the pleasure of long walks with my dog.  I take bubble baths every evening.  I set aside long, guilt-free stretches for experimentation and play.  I take naps whenever I can, rather than pushing...through...exhaustion.

Now, when I feel that I'm trudging down the once familiar path of overwork and resentment, I am far more likely to remind myself to take a deep, cleansing breath, and say, "You are not perfect, but you've done enough for today."  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gratitude Photo Collage (30 Day Blogging Challenge #12)

Today's prompt:

Share a photo - or photos - of things / people you are grateful for.

I loved assembling this collage of some of the people and things that I am grateful for.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A List of Life Lessons (30 Day Blogging Challenge #11)

Today's prompt:

What is the most important ‘lesson’ you want to teach your students?

Happy Veterans Day!

This was a difficult prompt for me, because there are so many things that I want to teach my students and for them to learn, in part, from me.  Thinking that it might be easier to narrow down my list, I changed the prompt to, "What is the most important 'lesson' you want to teach your child?"  I quickly discovered that narrowing my focus to one person did not make the question easier to answer.  If anything, I was reminded of how fragile and imperfect we all are as human beings.  This led me to conclude that I'd ideally like to help teach my daughter and students how to become confident, well-adjusted, happy human beings.

Gratitude Road by bartmaguire, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  bartmaguire 

Since this is my blog, and because I cannot decide upon solely one important lesson, I've decided to create a list of ten important ideas that continue to enlighten me about myself and others, in the hopes that I might model and share them with all those whom I teach.

1.  You are enough, so be yourself.
2.  Don't abandon your hopes and dreams.
3.  It's okay to make mistakes.  
4.  Be present in each moment.
5.  Embrace gratitude.
6.  Don't take everything you hear or read at face value.
7.  Do one thing that scares you each day.
8.  Choose to be kind.
9.  Find inspiration in nature.
10.  Learn to love the questions themselves.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Humorous "Hammer Grammar" (30 Day Blogging Challenge #10)

Today's prompt:

Being grateful for humor - share a story about a time in your career where humor played a part.

Several years ago, one of my collaborative partners at Colchester Middle School and I dressed up like wanna-be rappers, equipped with backwards baseball caps and awkward bling (think faux chains with cardboard dollar signs).  One of us had the word "Hammer" on our hat and the other had the word "Grammar." In order to set the tone for a writing lesson focused upon grammar, we performed a ridiculous homage to M.C. Hammer's epic anthem, "U Can't Touch This."

Our students didn't see it coming, but they sure appreciated this outrageous surprise.  Many were laughing, others were dancing, and one (cough...gasp) recorded us with his device.  I honestly can't remember much about the content we introduced that day (other than a healthy appreciation for 80's music), but our willingness to poke fun at ourselves sure was a hit with our students.

(In what may not be such a laughing matter, a video of this silliness may exist somewhere in cyberspace.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Gratitude improves relationships." (30 Day Blogging Challenge #9)

Today's prompt:

What is one way you could develop an Attitude of Gratitude in your classroom or school? 

In the article, 11 Tips for Instilling True Gratitude in Your Kids, readers are reminded that "Gratitude improves relationships."  Having experienced this first-hand, I'd like to share small ways that one school is doing just that.

In the middle school where I most recently worked under a one-year contract, faculty and staff were encouraged to post weekly updates to a shared Google Doc, identifying ways that students, faculty, and staff had exemplified caring, assertion, respect, empathy, and self-control  (CARES) at school and during extra-curricular activities. The weekly shout-outs were then projected onto a television screen in the hallway outside of the main office, sent home in a weekly parent newsletter, and shared via Google+.  Students in the building really appreciated this gesture and would be delighted to see their names flash across the screen.  

The administrators at this school also encouraged teachers to send home "CARES" postcards, addressed to individual students, letting them know that something they had done had been recognized and was appreciated.  Designed by a student, these blank postcards were located in the office, making it easy to send home notes of gratitude.

Another thing that was done that significantly contributed to the positive climate in the building was that all faculty meetings started with teachers and administrators taking time out to recognize and show appreciation to one another.  Anyone could stand up and offer a shout-out, and the words of affirmation were specific and heart-felt.  

Although my time at Browns River Middle School was short, I remain grateful for the time I was part of their close-knit team.

Inspiring New Learning (30 Day Blogging Challenge #7)

Today's prompt:

What new learning has inspired you in your career?

"It's not the vision at's the groping."                                              (Unexpected wisdom from a Northern Exposure episode)

While working to complete the requirements for an endorsement as a Technology Integration Specialist, I've found a great deal of inspiration through the tinkering that I've been able to do as I follow passions ignited by the Maker Movement.  Although I am currently between teaching jobs, I am grateful for the opportunity to be pursuing a self-designed, personalized learning plan that allows me to focus on a variety of things that captivate my interest.  While I have a clear vision for the credentials I am working toward, I am pleasantly groping along a meandering path, inspired by the detours that the Maker Movement has brought my way.

Since attending the Create Make and Learn summer institute this past summer, I have been slowly learning how to code my Lilypad Arduino and Arduino Uno. Although my progress has been incremental, and my devotion has admittedly waxed and waned, it's been the grappling, and the support of others who know more about electronics than I do, that have urged me to keep plugging along.  I've enjoyed participating in communities of learning, such as the one I experienced at Vermont Fest this past week.

While there, I attended an evening workshop called Practical Magic:  Arduinos and Practical Computing with Bryant Patten and a small group of educators.  Within that setting, I figured out ways to apply what I've been learning, whereas before I had been working in isolation, clueless about practical applications of my tooling around.  For example, I learned that I can use an Arduino board to test out a circuit, before soldering the real thing together in a project.  This would have been extremely useful to me a couple of weeks ago when I was attempting my first Make magazine project.

During this workshop, I also discovered that the code for one type of Arduino board can run on just about any Arduino compatible board.  In other words,  I finally figured out that the coding I've done on my LilyPad Arduino can run on my Arduino Uno. While my breakthroughs probably seem insignificant (and less than riveting to read about), I am curious to see just where all of this meandering leads.

What does it mean for me as an educator?  Having these experiences has solidified my commitment to supporting STEAM programs within schools.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Memorable Moment (30 Day Blogging Challenge #8)

Today's prompt: 

Write about a memorable moment in the classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.

Dancing Statues by dixie_law, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  dixie_law 

I am inspired by this prompt, my mind flooded with memories.  In the interest of brevity, however, I am focusing upon one that represents joy, acceptance, and a time when dancing and getting a little silly with my students led to one of my favorite teaching experiences.  

Several years ago, while teaching my first class of seventh graders about the fall of the Roman Empire, I choreographed a dance that came to be known as the "Poopy Emperor Dance."

Set to the They Might Be Giants rendition of, "Istanbul Not Constantinople," the routine involved a series of hand and body motions symbolizing challenges that led to the eventual fall of Rome.  One gesture, symbolizing Rome's string of weak, corrupt leaders, linked the "poopy" Emperor Commodus to a giant swirling toilet bowl (Toilet = Commode).  Other moves represented economic problems, mercenary armies, and Rome's expansive, unwieldy size. 

The routine was goofy, but my students loved the song and dance so much that they asked the DJ at one of their school dances to play it so they could go out on the floor and perform it in front of their friends on other teams. 

My students made learning and teaching fun!  I will never forgot that crew.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Inspiring Quote (30 Day Blogging Challenge #6)

Today's prompt:

Share a quote or verse that has inspired you and tell us why.

The following Teddy Roosevelt quote was brought to my attention by Brené Brown, an inspiring TED Talk presenter and vulnerability researcher who's written several books, such as The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly that have shaped the way that I view the world.
fail while daring greatly by Sarah_G, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Sarah_G 

This quote resonates for me as a recovering perfectionist, because it helps me transform my fear of human failings into the encouragement to keep trying my best.  I also like it, because it perfectly illustrates how important it is to have a growth mindset.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grateful for My Strengths (30 Day Blogging Challenge #5)

Today's prompt:

What are your strengths? Which are you most grateful for?

In a previous post, I was asked to identify three strengths that I have.  At that time, I wrote that I am creative, persistent, and a lifelong learner.

If I had to select the one strength that I was most grateful for as an educator, I would have to choose being a lifelong learner, because being open to learning new things about the world and myself has been the trait that has brought me the most joy and insight.  

The curiosity and drive that have led me to explore new places and experiences have sustained me when I've been filled with self-doubt.  Learning new things has opened up opportunities and captivated me with wonder, fueling my imagination and giving me hope that I have not yet reached my peak. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gifts of Affirmation & Encouragement (30 Day Blogging Challenge #4)

Today's prompt:

What was the nicest gift that you received from a student/ parent/ colleague?

You Can Do It Lake Huron Beach Oscoda Tr by stevendepolo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  stevendepolo 

I must confess that when I first started pondering this prompt, visions of tangible objects, gifted to me over the years, scrolled through my imagination.

I saw a can of corn, a disco ball, a shoe calendar... a book about mullets, plates of misshapen cookies, a handmade necklace with a Colosseum pendant... a duck-tape pen, large wedge of Parmesan cheese, leopard-printed-heart-shaped charm, giant felted elf slippers, and countless drawings, cards, notes, and letters.  While remembering these trinkets, and the beautiful people who gave them to me, I was awash with sentimentality as my heart grew three sizes.

Although I admittedly enjoyed my indulgent journey down memory lane, the greatest gifts that I've received from students or a colleagues have not taken physical form.  They were words of affirmation and encouragement.  

For example, when a student graduating from high school told me, "You are my favorite teacher that I've ever had," it made me feel like every sacrifice I'd ever made to give students the best of myself had been worth it.

On another occasion, when a colleague invited me to do something that I might not have otherwise considered, telling me, "I know you can do it," I received the gift of having someone believe in me.

A common thread throughout the blogs that I've been reading over the past few days has been the importance of feeling connected through the quality of our relationships.  In reflecting upon the greatest gifts that I have received from students and colleagues, I am humbled by the reminder of how powerful my own words can be, and I pray that they will serve as gifts to others. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Listening to my Inner Teacher (30 Day Blogging Challenge #3)

Today's prompt:

What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

Burning the candle at both ends by TRF_Mr_Hyde, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  TRF_Mr_Hyde 

Back in September, while taking part in my first blogging challenge, I answered a question similar to this in another post.  I was asked to reflect upon an accomplishment that I held dear that might have been unknown to others. In the process, I recognized that I viewed my greatest professional achievement to be finding the courage to set myself on a new course for learning and personal discovery, after reluctantly concluding that I was no longer able to burn my candle at both ends.  Surprisingly, that uncharted course involved my taking a self-imposed sabbatical, without a plan B, much to the surprise of those with whom I worked.  Three years ago, I made the decision to resign at the end of my contract.

Since then, I have been in the midst of a transition. While I quickly concluded that I still feel called to teach, I am proud of myself for determining that I am able to approach it differently than I once did.

Since making that difficult decision, I've taken courses, tinkered, done some subbing, and taught a computer skills course for a year.  While I will admit that I've had intense pangs of regret that I didn't just ask for a year off, rather than deciding to make a clean break, I know that I needed to impose a period of dormancy upon myself in order to ensure that I was on the right path.  While it may sound weak or perplexing to those who may easily succeed at finding a balance that feeds them, I absolutely needed to remove myself from the responsibilities of being a full-time classroom teacher in order to know for sure that I actually need to teach. Teaching nourishes my soul, as long as I don't let it overshadow the other parts of my identity, such as being a wife, mother, and artist.  

Therein lies the paradox that Parker Palmer so eloquently describes in his book, The Courage to Teach. One of the best things that I've done for myself and my career has been participating in Northeast Courage and Renewal.  It helped me realize that I was not alone in my quest to find balance between my personal and professional lives.  It helped me understand that the reason I often felt so overwhelmed and exhausted was because I cared so much, and that my feelings of inadequacy had come from a place of not attending to my "inner teacher."  I'm not trying to suggest that I never fall back into the old habits of putting too many logs on my fire (please consider reading Judy Sorem Brown's beautiful poem on the importance of breathing space), but I am learning to practice self-compassion.  This will impact everything else about who I am as a teacher for the rest of my life.

I am proud of the ways that I've changed during this transition, and the ways that I've opened myself up to new opportunities and patterns of thinking.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Grateful for the Daily Grind (30 Day Blogging Challenge #2)

Today's prompt:

What is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to?

One thing that has remained constant throughout my career, whether I've been working full time or doing freelance work, is my morning cup of coffee. I can't remember when it first started, but, for as long as I can remember, my husband has been getting up before me to prepare it.  For years, this gesture has set the tone for my days, filling me with gratitude in the hours before even seeing my first students.  

It begins with an evening ritual. 
Nearly every night, just before he lets the dog out one last time, he pads down to the kitchen in his pajamas to grind coffee, fill a pot with water, and set the automatic timer.  

While he's working, I hear him rhythmically pounding the grinder on the counter (it almost always gets stuck).  Occasionally, he sings or entertains himself with a broad range of nonsensical mumbling-- comforting sounds that help lull me to sleep.

Because I tend to be on the clumsy side in the morning, with a propensity for dribbling on my clothes if allowed to carelessly overfill my own cup, he usually invites me to sit down with my iPad before personally handing me my mug.  

My weekday mug is chipped, but I love it. It was painted by my daughter eleven years ago, when she was only four.

On weekends, the ritual changes.  My weekend mug is broad, green, and filled with homemade cappuccino.  Saturday mornings are flavored with a hint of maple syrup and sprinkled with freshly grated chocolate flakes.  
While I suspect that I am not alone in embracing my first cup of coffee each morning, I feel grateful that my husband takes the time and effort to nurture me with this daily gift. 

This is true whether I am working full-time or merely subbing, as is currently the case.  I am grateful that this writing prompt came on a Saturday and that I was reminded to tell my husband how much I appreciate him.