Wednesday, December 22, 2010

5 Ways I'm Being More Mindful and Authentic This Holiday Season




Tis the season for obligation: frantic buying of gifts, marathon cookie baking extravaganzas, visiting far away family, decorating with crazy lights and sending cards to others who were quicker than you and got a card in your mailbox by early December.
I'm not being cynical.. well, maybe I am. But I am tired this year. I am evaluating what I do, why I do it, and attempting to have a peaceful, guilt-free, authentic Christmas.  What does that look like?
  1. I'm not buying gifts; I'm giving time and experiences with loved ones. The main gift for my kids this year will be a trip to Boston and NY in February so that I can be with both kids at the same time. The other gift, so sweetly requested by my son: "I just want your cookies and fudge, Mom."
  2. I have decided to visit my brother and his family, who live within a 2 hour drive, instead of the usual trek to So Cal relatives, that leaves me more exhausted at the end of vacation!
  3. I made my cards, and in doing so, felt the gift of myself and my creativity extended outward. I gave them to students and mailed out a small batch to those on my close friends and family list. 
  4. Getting together for 1:1 socializing, doing something outside to rejuvenate. Today my friend is driving over to go on a sea glass hunt on the beach. It may be raining, but it will be fun to reconnect with her, hear the roar of the stormy sea and help her fulfill her passion of creating with sea glass.
  5. I am going to savor the brief time I have with my son, who is dividing his California visit time with family and friends. I could lament that he won't be with me long or just enjoy the time we do have, baking and having fun together. I am also going to remind myself to not feel sorry that I won't see my daughter but be proud of her; she who won't make it for Christmas because she is working at a group home, with kids who certainly need her presence and compassion more than I do!
So what are you doing to ensure some peace and joy for yourself this year? Please share!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Loved..

Have you ever stopped to savor and bask in the love of those who care for you? I know, I know.. just sappy Joan going on again about positive everything. But seriously.. it's actually very true that purposefully savoring positive experiences contributes to your health and well-being. Makes sense, but sometimes, in the harried busy lives we lead, we forget to stop and reflect.  Yesterday, I had the chance to do that.
I woke up and spent some quiet time with my husband, who also shares my exact birthday. I gave him two cards, one for his birthday, one for our anniversary, and then he told me to open my computer. On my Itunes he had downloaded a very special song to remind me of his love for me. He also bought me an iphone which will arrive in about 10 days, so he bought the song for me to use as my ring tone. This thoughtful gesture made me teary-eyed and so grateful to have such a loving and wonderful husband. 
After we made our plans to go to breakfast, I signed on to Twitter where I was floored by all of the thoughtful birthday wishes. In addition to all of the tweets, there was a link to a wallwisher, an online board of sorts, where my Twitter friends, also called my Professional Learning Network, posted birthday wishes. Talk about savoring the feeling of being loved!

I also had friends on facebook post oodles of birthday wishes. My point here is not to brag but to point out the importance of stopping to enjoy this beautiful feeling of being loved and appreciated. Many of us in the education world are about to get very busy, and some of us, very stressed, as a new year begins. We must remember to stop, immerse ourselves in energizing, affirming encounters with our friends and loved ones. Thank you all who contributed to my wonderful birthday yesterday.
How will you take care of yourself and remember how special you are?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wow! What an Experience at The Reform Symposium 2010

It's been a roller-coaster weekend presenting at The Reform Symposium and attending sessions at my first online conference ever! I was honored to present with Lisa Dabbs, a passionate voice in education with so many years and stories of experience to bring to us. If you missed the session, it will be archived sometime this week here on the Reform Symposium site.

Here are a few of the highlights of the experience I would like to share:
  • My PLN ( and I know some don't like that term but it works for me!) is amazing. During the weeks prior to the conference, I got to know Lisa and really enjoyed our time developing our presentation and practicing during Skype calls.  As I was presenting, knowing that there were so many familiar Twitter friends there really made it easier for me to share in such an exciting yet terrifying new environment! You are all wonderfully supportive and I appreciate any feedback you would like to share, whether it's constructive criticism or "ahas" you may have had.
  • We all have unique voices and opportunities to learn each day. I connected with new people in chats during sessions and enjoyed the witty banter and enthusiasm of active learning peers.
  • I learned just how generous educators are. Countless hours were spent by the wonderful organizers, Shelly Terrell, Chris Rogers, Kelly Tenkely, and Jason Bedell to prepare for the conference, organize volunteers, moderate sessions and ensure a successful event. Presenters gave up precious summer time with family to prepare and practice for what was a new experience for many of us presenting with Elluminate.
  •  Great ideas can be age-old truths presented in a new way and applied to solve a problem. During one session I attended, one of the chat room members continuously said,"But, I'm sorry this isn't anything new." Perhaps some of the ideas weren't new, but the application and language that were being described were wonderfully inspiring to many.  Sometimes a presenter has such a passionate voice or authentic example that motivates a participant to make a critical change in practice. 
  • Relationships are even more critical in education than I ever thought before. The most passionate and inspiring presenters talked about and shared the power of developing efficacy among their students. If kids can't trust teachers and administrators, the amazing level of learning that we heard about in Monika Hardy's keynote session cannot happen. Monika's students clearly had a positive, inspiring experience working with her last year.  And speaking of relationships and their impact on schools, George Couros' keynote was another example of the incredible power of a leader who understands the importance of connecting with kids, parents and teachers.  
  • Kids are the most powerful advocates for educational change. The insights and passion for learning that Monika's students demonstrated should be shared with educational leaders everywhere. We need to learn about and use models like Monika's framework to connect with experts around the world and then let kids shout their enthusiasm from the rooftops!
  • Finally, I've had enough of this debate of what word we use for change in education. Whether you like reform, transformation or any other term, the point is that we cannot afford to sit idle while we argue semantics.  It is up to us to be the advocates for our kids so that they get the educational experience they deserve!
Ok, enough about me! What are some of your insights from the conference?  I look forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks again for your support.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Five Ways to Become Happier Today | Tal Ben-Shahar | Big Think

I just love Tal Ben-Shahar! He truly gives us realistic, everyday ways we can help ourselves to live more fulfilling lives. Please take the time to watch this short video by clicking below. Then, try out his suggestions and let me know what you think!


Five Ways to Become Happier Today | Tal Ben-Shahar | Big Think

Friday, July 23, 2010

Inspired Once Again by a Song


It takes a great song to shake us up sometimes; this song, "Shower the People", by the amazing James Taylor has me thinking and wondering if I take the time to tell and show my loved ones the joy they bring to me. 
Sometimes I wonder if we save our "nice" selves for our workplace or even our online presence and forget to do some of our good deeds for those we see every day.  Hopefully this post will inspire you to hug your kids, look eye to eye with your partner and tell him/her how much you appreciate their love and support. In this fast-paced media-driven frenzy of a world we live in, sometimes we forget to stop and express our love. I love this song and how it will inspire me today.  Right now I am off to call my sisters, who both live way too far away.
How will you "shower the people you love with love?" Please share!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beautiful Inspiring Sights and Sounds of Nature

 

I went for a walk last night with my husband and son. We climbed up on some rocks, took some pictures of the beautiful sunset and then I jokingly said, "Ok, dolphins, I am ready for you. You can come out now!" I've seen them a couple times lately but not when I have had my camera handy! This time I was prepared and wanted to get a shot for a new young blogger who wrote a post about her love for sea animals. My son looked up some pictures of dolphins and informed me that these are probably harbor porpoises because of their size and shape.
In any event, I savored the beauty and joy of nature with my loved ones. What can you do today to intentionally savor a beautiful sight, smell or sound?
 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Week of "Firsts" for me!

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

It's Sunday, a great day to reflect on the week and think about how I am spending my time while not teaching. I do tutor part-time during the summer, but my schedule allows quite a bit of time to pursue learning and growth opportunities.
I'd like to share with you the opportunities that have presented themselves recently and how I have actually not just "thought about them" but jumped in, feet first, enjoying these exciting new endeavors!
  • On my "Finding Ways for all Kids to Flourish" blog, I invited others to jump in and give me advice via Voicethread and blog comments about how to set up my new classroom at my new school in the fall. The results were pretty amazing. I am so grateful and encouraged by the way we support each other in my PLN, Professional Learning Network. It was a first in asking for help in such a public forum as well as a first posting a Voicethread!
  • I was invited by the amazing Shelly Terrell to present at a virtual conference and actually agreed to do it at the end of July. Since I was a bit panicked about the whole experience, I decided to play with photobooth and photograph and video myself. I even got up the nerve to blog about my photo phobia and shared my video on this post.
  • I decided to play around with Voki and made a voice introduction for this blog and my other blog. Check it out up on the right upper side of this page.
  • I was inspired by George Couros to try out Prezi and made this fun presentation: If you Give a Teacher Twitter . Of course, because it was my first, I am sure I made some beginner errors but I am excited to find a fun creative tool to use with my students.
  • On Tuesday, during the noon EST Twitter edchat, I was busily jumping in tweeting with others when I got a message asking for help moderating. "Me?" I thought nervously, sending Shelly a frantic,"What do I do?" direct message. She replied and off I went, co-moderating with Lisa Dabbs, another great educator I admire so much.
  • On Wednesday, I awoke to a message from Shelly, asking me to write up the edchat summary from Tuesday's chat that I co-moderated.  I was beside myself with anxiety, but grabbed my coffee, jumped right in with the very helpful and easy template provided, and wrote for almost 3 hours. I am sure the perfectionist in me made it took way longer than it should have, but here it is, published today! 
  •  Finally, throughout the week, I chatted on Twitter with some awesome fellow tweeters, @Saskateach and @TheHomeworkDog about our renewed commitment to exercise goals. A joke I made about doing 10 ab crunches for each tweet led to someone proposing a support group, and daily exercise conversation with the hashtag #temt where we posted our daily goals. Yesterday, I decided to take this great idea a step further and started a collaborative blog, Twitter Exercise Motivation Team  inspired by the awesome collaborative blog by @Peoplegogy and began inviting interested parties to join as contributing authors. As of right now, we have nine authors and eight more who requested invitations and have not yet replied. The blog is just over 24 hours old and has 20 followers and visits and posts from all over the world. Our latest post comes from Anna in Greece!
You can probably tell from my enthusiasm and overuse of exclamation points (sorry) that it has been an awesome week of being energized and inspired by my fellow Tweeters. I hope that you catch some of this positive energy and take on a "first" of your own.
I love this quote: I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”–Picasso
Please share your stories of trying new adventures. I love what we learn from each other.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Challenging Myself to New Ventures

 
This is me after I agreed to co-facilitate a session in an online virtual conference. And I recorded the video below while practicing speaking on camera so I could get over my silly but very serious video phobia. So, you may be thinking, "What in the world is she doing now, advertising her neuroses to the world" and asking people to boost her up and make her feel better. She's a grown woman, who has presented at many conferences, talks to colleagues online, participates in chats on Twitter all of the time. Why does SHE need help?" Well, perhaps it's because I have grown to love and appreciate the amazing support of my online PLN. And frankly, it's because I am a recovered/recovering "shy kid."  It may be  hard to believe, but for much of my childhood I thought up what were, in my head, "great things to say", but never had the guts to say them. Now, in adulthood after the wonderful years of raising my children, I have a passion for sharing what I am learning with others. I am both frozen with fear and joyfully excited that I have been invited to facilitate a session at an upcoming online conference. And, as soon as I have the details of time, date and links, I will definitely share with you!
Perhaps my reflection of this experience will also propel you to take on a challenge that you have been creatively sidestepping. Is there something, deep inside of you, calling you to grow in a new way but your fear is in the way?  I must credit the wonderful Shelly Terrell and her incredible work for inspiring me to take on new opportunities to share and grow. After watching my plea, feel free to share any comments, advice, and what you might be inspired to do with the support of your PLN. Thanks so much!
video

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quieting the Noise

I love my learning, sharing and connecting online. Truly, I do. But I have realized lately that there is an addictive part of me(besides the chocolate and coffee addictions ;-) ) that drives me like a rat in a maze to check and see if I have missed, "the big cheese." I often find myself checking Twitter and Facebook in a cycle,walking away because I know I have other things to do, yet boomeranging back on in minutes to check for updates. It's like leaving a party when you sense something big is about to happen, yet you feel compelled to stay so you don't miss "the greatest part" that people will be talking about forever.
I guess it's always about balance, isn't it? With my husband and I often sitting here, parallel tweeting about our own yet often intersecting domains of interest and passion, I look forward to the moments when we step away from the electronic devices and talk live, face to face about what we are pondering.
We got into a deep conversation this morning about how our culture promotes such noise, such distraction that we often forget to get quiet and listen to ourselves. It makes me sad and wonder how our kids will know how to do this if the adults aren't practicing it.Although I didn't see my parents really get away, stop and reflect, I had lots of free time, as a kid, to ride my bike, wander into the forest with my siblings,and imagine. When my kids were young,they spent hours trading off and negotiating whose activity choice would be next. Would it be building amazing lego creations, competing in monopoly and scrabble marathons,or in summer, building sandcastles at the beach? As a single parent I did not have the money to send them to "camp" and busy them with lessons for this and that. I often felt guilty, though now, seeing how they have grown up, I am more grateful than anything else that they had many opportunities to plan and entertain themselves.
It's wonderful to be connected to the world out there,learning and building relationships with folks all over the world. I appreciate the value of sharing with all of my new friends. ( Yes, I consider them friends as we discuss a multitude of professional and personal topics) Yet I also know that I lose myself at times; I forget to stop and listen, create, revive and connect with the parts of me that need space to grow.
I surely can't be the only one battling these thoughts. How do you keep the balance? Let's share and learn from each other.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others | Video on TED.com


I watched this video clip this morning, unaware of the tears it would bring to my eyes. I had read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning in high school and had even written an essay for a contest. His experiences surviving the Holocaust and his insights into the true reasons we are here struck a chord even in a naive 17 year old girl. Now with many life experiences behind me, I appreciate even more this incredible man. Watch for yourself; it will be less than 5 minutes that will transform your day and open your mind.




Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others | Video on TED.com

Friday, June 18, 2010

Follow Friday

It's Friday again, the time on Twitter when tweeps give a shout out to their favorite folks. I always feel a bit odd with the whole process, like the kid at school who can't decide which group to sit with at lunch. I worry that I will leave someone out, forget one of my new favorite conversationalists or resource-sharing gurus of education.
This week, I've decided to forgo the 140 characters and write an ABC's list of the valuable people of my PLN. I still have probably overlooked some wonderful friends, so I apologize in advance!

A is for Aviva or @grade1 as she is known on Twitter.  A wonderful teacher, supporter, sharer of information.
B is for  @bhsprincipal , an administrator who remembers what it's like to be a teacher and keeps kids first
C is for @creativecoley , new to Twitter and blogging, my former intern who will undoubtedly have much to share
D is for Deven or @spedteacher  whose honest, candid blog posts always inspire
E is for @EducationCEO whose honest reflection and conversation challenge me to work harder for equity
F is for @fiteach ,Jamie, an invaluable reflective member of our PLN who shares so much, takes time to share insightful blog comments
G is for George, or @gcouros,a principal and wonderful blogger who shares his learning and thoughts daily!
H is for my hilarious friend from the South, @amandacdykes full of great stories and resources to share
I is for @iteachgrade2 who shares a continuous supply of great resources for the classroom
J is for my brother Johnny @JohnJPatitucci an amazing bass player and great guy!
K is for @koolkat222 who always makes me smile and shares her classroom wisdom generously
L is for @larryferlazzo whose amazing blog is always enlightening and thought provoking
M is for Marjie @MarjieKnudsen who writes about how to help kids grow and flourish
N is for @NMHS_principal , another inspiring administrator doing awesome things for kids
O is for one of my faves who inspired me by setting up an edu conf. @jasontbedell
P is for Pam @Pammoran  an inspiring superintendent in Virginia whose blog reflects her genuine commitment to kids
Q is for the endless question answer man @cybraryman1 whose pages are a resource for thousands of followers
R is for @Readingcountess whose passion for reading and teaching is contagious
S is for the amazing @ShellTerrell who supports, shares, educates, inspires all in our PLN
T is for @teachingwthsoul who always shares her edu wisdom and experience
U is for the understanding, supportive @saskateach  another great teacher to tweet with!
V is for Vicky, @Vickyloras a genuine passionate educator 
W is for Will or @peoplegogy whose passion for education is unmistakable
X is for the extra hard work from @readtoday committed to helping kids develop literacy
Y is for Young, Wendy @Kidlutions who writes awesome material to help us understand kids
Z is for one of  "Z" most prolific providers of free tech resources @rmbyrne

Thanks a million to all who share and learn with me on Twitter. Who do you think is a must follow? Please share!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hurt Heart...


Have you ever given your all, heart, soul, mind..I mean your "ALL" and had someone make a disparaging comment about your competence? It happened to me today and though I am trying to get past it, I feel stuck. For an entire school year I have worked diligently to help a very special little girl gain success in my class. I cried at her IEP when the "professionals" who didn't know her minimized her significant issues, spent countless hours talking with her parents brainstorming ideas to help her succeed, and read everything I could get my hands on to increase my knowledge.
In an attempt to make himself feel more competent or look better when her mom rightfully questioned a school practice where she was left alone in a small nurses office after an incident where she threw mud all over a yard duty, my principal offhandedly commented,"Maybe Mrs. Young wasn't the best placement for this little girl this year." He went on to say that perhaps my "background" got in the way. ( Of course he did not have the courage to say this to me, but was actually stupid enough to say it to her mom.) My background? My background as a social worker and clinical therapist helped me care for this little girl, teach and learn with her, understand her, and look at her from a strengths perspective. My background helped me create a caring classroom environment where no child belittled, accused, or made fun of her differences. My background helped me tolerate getting hit, spit on, poked in the eye and screamed at more often than I care to recall.
So, when someone who has no clue about what occurred in my classroom because he spent maybe 5-10 total minutes in an entire school year thinks he can speak to "the best place" for my student, am I just to conclude that he knows not what he says? Intellectually, I know the answer, but tell it to my heart. It still aches..

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creativity in the Classroom



Last Tuesday, on Edchat, I only had a few minutes to join in a conversation among educators interested in improving education, by making creativity more a part of the learning process and outcomes at school. Of course, creativity looks quite different in different age classrooms but my takeaway is this: Why are we so afraid to hand over more of the power of learning to kids? If we set the goals/objectives for the knowledge and thinking that must occur, why is it so difficult to allow/encourage a variety of ways to demonstrate that mastery? Several teachers I know fully admit and almost seem to boast "I am not creative." Are these the models we want for our learners? Is there a way to "train" teachers in creativity?Now if "create" is at the highest level of Bloom's Taxonomy, how can I be assured that these teachers will even know how to facilitate and reinforce students' creative thinking processes? Yes, the system seems to hold us back in a place where we do what's expected, don't ask any questions, and put forth a bland blend of "stuff" we call curriculum each day, luring our learners into a deep snooze of complacency. It's time we stood up, rebelled against the industrial-age model of education and learned how to build in assessment practices where we can assess our kids' learning. What kind of learning do they need to demonstrate? How about critical thinking where they give us answers that they didn't find in a book or website? How about answers where they developed and supported their analyses by citing and synthesizing resources. Even young learners can learn from reflecting upon and defending their points of view.  I love to ask my kids, " How do you know that?" or alternatively, "How can you tell that's not the answer?"  What makes you think that?
We need to be open to a brainstorming and solution generating process that may not come in an easy 5 minute thinking session.  Part of the big problem in education is that it mirrors the society we live in. We want instant everything. We don't have the patience for process. It's time to challenge these assumptions that solutions and learning come in quick fix magic bullet strategies.  How?
We can learn from our peers. And this is exactly what I do, on Twitter every day. Many incredible educators and others share resources, give support and challenge the status quo. So, how do you model and support creativity in your school? What do you see working? Please share your thoughts!
The Blooming Butterfly poster is a licensed image from the following source:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mother's Day: A Time to Thank my Kids

So Mother's Day is approaching and it makes me all teary as I think about how being a mother has been the greatest gift of my life.  Knowing that my kids, Nick (23) and Stefanie (22) have grown up into wonderfully loving, creative, kind, and hardworking adults has made me feel like my life is complete. No, I don't mean that I want to die tomorrow..but I know that if I did, I would have done my most important work in raising two beautiful kids who have so much to offer this world.
So, in honor of Mother's Day, a tribute to my Nick and Tef: the greatest joys of my life.
To Nick, whose messes and experiments must have rivaled the greatest of scientists and led him to the amazing engineering grad student that he is today.
To Stef, whose ability to turn anything borrowed from my closet,craft supply stashes, or kitchen cupboards into an amazing work of art, fashion, or culinary excellence never ceases to amaze me.
To Nick, my renaissance guy, who went from playing piano and guitar by teaching himself, to soccer and football while acing AP exams in all subjects in high school.
To Stef, my thoughtful questioner and dedicated student about to graduate college, always pondering, exploring and analyzing angles of a subject before cranking out amazing papers her professors brag about and use as examples for others.
To Nick and Stef: an incredible sibling support system who helped each other through the craziness of doing the every other weekend visits that my divorce in their early years caused.
To Nick and Stef as loving, supportive kids who keep me up to date on what is happening with them, even if it's through texting, talking online etc.
I could ramble on, and perhaps I will.. next Mother's Day. Thank you for all of the joy. I cherish both of you and savor all of our special times together. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Savoring


There is a great deal of research that claims "savoring" as a key to well-being. From diet experts to positive psychologists I often hear the word tossed around. "Take time to savor." "While eating, just eat." "Don't do too many things at once. Savor each moment." And though I find myself enjoying the rich aroma and flavor of my morning coffee, I am a bit distracted by reading and writing. I stop to take a sip and mindfully experience the brilliant dance of complementary tastes of my nutella smeared bagel and coffee.  I remind myself, once again, that I need to eat slowly and enjoy each bite.
I wonder how many moments in my day when I miss the opportunity to savor.  Today I will make a more conscious effort to immerse myself in my encounters with friends and loved ones. I will listen to the beautiful harmony of the birds outside my window. And later as I run down to the beach to work this tired body I will savor the roar of the ocean and its reliable calming effect on my soul.
What will you savor today?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Listen to your dreams..

I've been dreaming a lot. I suppose I dream much more than I realize, but lately I have been remembering more of my nightly journeys.  Last week I had a dream that my Grandpa, or "Gramps" as we lovingly called him, was standing across the kitchen getting ready to rinse off a knife as he was cooking. Now Gramps was always the baker, not really the cook, but in my dream there he was, as vibrant as he was in his earlier days, talking to me about how one day he had said I wouldn't have to worry about having enough money. I asked him, "Hey Gramps, what about me winning the lottery?" "Didn't you tell me I should be playing?" He looked at me, smiled and replied, "Yeah, I need to look into that." He said it with such certainty, and I somehow believed that he had the power to make it happen. The next thing I knew my alarm was going off and I was jolted out of my dream and out of my warm cozy bed.   I wanted so badly to go back to my dream; I wanted to ask Gramps what he meant and tell him how much I missed him. As I got up and made my coffee, I felt a calm presence... I felt him looking down at me and somehow felt the reassurance that everything in my life is going to be alright.  I am not completely certain that I understand the full meaning of my dream. I do know that I felt a calming sense of assurance about my life as I encountered Gramps through my dream world.  I also know that my life is filled with rich, deep meaning and Gramps would be proud if he were here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Power of Gratitude

Here I am on a rainy day, the first day of my spring break. While tempted to complain and moan about the weather and how I spent time today in the doctor's office and not basking on the beach, I find myself overcome with a sense of gratitude. As Edequity consultant, Dr. Edwin Javius, who spoke at our district's Equity Training recently said, "Your worst day is someone's best day."
I think of this quote often, especially when I succumb to a bout of frustration or negativity as I navigate the politics of the education system.  As I sat waiting for my doctor's appointment, I jotted a list of reasons to be thankful:
  • I have medical insurance. As much as it's not the preferable experience to be sitting in pain in the doctor's office on the first day of spring break, I could be unemployed and without any insurance, forced to sit and remain in pain and worry.
  • It's me, not my kids. As a mother I can handle my own illness and/or pain of any kind much better than that of my kids or other loved ones.
  • I am loved. My husband, though I don't write about him much out of pure respect for him and the privacy of our marriage, is a loving and devoted partner.  My kids are wonderful and my family a true gift in my life.
  • I have meaning. Though I have daily frustrations with a multitude of flaws of our education system,  I am fortunate to have the opportunity to change lives each and every day. 
  • I have expression. I love to write, create, sing, and explore new frontiers of creative expression.
  • I am learning balance. Definitely an area that still needs much more work, I am learning how to let myself relax and "do nothing." "Nothing" simply means any activity not on my to-do list!
  • I have a curious mind that never stops. Sometimes it's a curse, but mostly I love exploring new ways to bring excitement into kids' lives.  
And with that I will end this rainy day ramble. Perhaps I have inspired you to stop and ponder the power of gratitude.  If so, please share! If not here, with a totally exposed audience ( and I can understand why not!) then with a loved one. Let them know you appreciate the joy they bring to your life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don't Stop Questioning

When we stop questioning
We might as well die
Trading in our freedom
for all the big news lies
Use the Mind you're given
focus on what's real
Test those ideas
Ask deep questions
Build on the positive
Spend time with those
who light your fire
not put it out
We've got more choices than we think
We limit ourselves by following blindly along
If we stop, think, look, listen
before we act
we save ourselves from unnecessary mistakes
Take a walk
Have a talk
draw, paint, read, sing
Find what you love
what's interesting?
Do something fun,
Do anything!
Don't dwell on the small stuff
Sometimes you just gotta be tough
Life isn't easy
But it's beautiful
In it's complexities
It takes the darkness
To feel the power of the Light

Random Poetry From a Wannabe Lyricist

 Embracing Uncertainty

Ask questions
Fuel your curious mind
Walk in the face of fear
Stand up and be proud
of who you are
Accept the gray
Dabble in it
There is beauty
in the diversity of the spectrum
Search for the truth
BUT..
don't be burdened by the outcome
What you find might not be
what you expected
Life is a beautiful journey
Not a series of endpoint certainties

Written by Joan Young  February, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Me a Bad Word?

It's been too long..way too long, since I made decisions based primarily on me. As I write those words, my inner censor is nagging me to evaluate.  Have I ever really made decisions based on what I want before considering others? Well, uh, um.. ( is it possible to stutter when writing?)  probably not so much. 
When I was a kid, I was subtly and not so subtly brainwashed into thinking that anything I did "for me" was a sign of selfishness, weakness, indulgence. It might seem crazy, but in my Italian Catholic family, martyrs were honored. "Look what I gave up to have all of you," my mom said occasionally as she struggled with the responsibility of five kids. I can vividly remember thinking to myself, " Then why didn't you just become a nurse like you wanted?" And, though I felt instantly guilty, the terrible thought was usually piggybacked by, "Then you wouldn't hate us so much."
Don't get me wrong. My mom was a wonderful person, a giving woman with a sarcastic tongue and quick wit; although her exterior was rough, she had a golden heart and a knack for knowing what others needed. She had a reputation far and wide for being one of most thoughtful gift givers around; she had a way of listening and observing so that she could find precisely the best gift for every family member or friend. Christmas has not been the same since my mom died, now over 10 years ago. She was loyal, kind, sharp, generous, but most importantly, she seemed at times like that soft gentle heart had been hardened by disappointments and thwarted goals. She was a creative soul, always starting projects and getting interrupted by caring for others. I'm sure it wasn't easy being her.  Oh, how I can relate.
Now, as an adult, with 2 grown children of my own, a wonderful husband and a profession I love, I must work very hard to listen to my inner voice to know what "I want." Every day I need to quiet myself and evaluate my decisions and where I am prioritizing myself in the list.  In short, I must practice healthy boundaries. It's so easy to say yes, to offer help, and to give so much that there's literally nothing left.  Just like the old adage, "We can't love others until we love ourselves," we certainly can't nourish others until we nourish ourselves.
How do you ensure that you are taking care of yourself and listening to your inner voice? Please share so that we can encourage each other to continue to be loving, giving people who don't end up losing sight of their own dreams.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Back to School..Back to Reality

It's a strange morning for me. School resumes today after winter break and as I get excited to go back to school and see my cute lil kiddos, I realize that I am not going to be with them this week. I will be at school, yes, but my intern will be in charge of the classroom for an entire week.
My intern is awesome, competent, and well- prepared. I have complete faith in her ability to have a great week with our class. I suppose I am sad in a way.. perhaps even a bit jealous? ( whoah, voicing my neuroses on a public forum?)  I love hearing the stories of what my students do on their vacations, their proclamations that they missed me over the long week! I enjoy getting the cards and pictures and stories they wrote. I know that this is all part of the territory with having an intern, a co-teacher in training, with me for the year.
I do look forward to the opportunity to get organized and clean out an area in my office that has been in disarray since our Kindergarten pod was remodeled a year ago (right in the middle of the school year). I plan to get things filed and organized and reflect on my practices a bit. I will probably visit my K teacher friends and help them with some classroom management issues as well as observe and learn from them!
So, yes, today it's back to reality. The reality will be just a tad bit different, that's all.
.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Listening and Sharing Every Day: The Best Gifts of All

We can listen and share to show our love every day. It's so simple that it barely requires saying. Or is it so simple that it easily gets overlooked?
Loving each other on holidays should not take precedence over loving each other on ordinary days. Now I am not one to bash any expressions of love and kindness; I just don't think that we need a day marked on a calendar to show our loved ones how much we care. I am not saying that I don't participate in such days; I just remind myself that the other non-holidays matter too.
I made a Valentines card for my husband after I decided that I probably would not be able to find one with "just the right words". We are truly meant for each other, born on the same exact day across the globe from each other.  We had to go through an extensive  process of immigration mumbo-jumbo to be together, and work hard each day to show each other that we cherish and devote ourselves to our partnership.
Every morning before I head out the door I leave him a brief message on a sticky note. These notes range from mumbling about how hard Mondays are but how grateful I am to come home to him, to acknowledging those small thoughtful gestures he makes to remind me that I am loved.
Before any cynics out there get on me for being a hopeless romantic ( which I wholeheartedly confess to as well as being an realistic idealist) I just want to say: we all have needs to be loved and appreciated. It's easy for us to express thanks and acknowledge others for their special contributions when talking to our virtual friends. Do we take the time to show our partners, families and real-life friends that they matter MOST to us? I can't be the only one who has to remind herself to put down the electronics and look into the eyes of loved ones and listen.  Perhaps listening and sharing are the best everyday love gifts we can offer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Letting Your Light Shine or Playing Small?

I am reflecting on this quote today:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

----from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

So what does this mean to me? Why does it call to me, especially today?
  • I tend to be intimidated, at times, by the intensity of my own passions and interests, fearing that others might think that I am odd or even "crazy" when I share them. 
  • I am sometimes lonely in my pursuit of advocacy for kids, working with some people who have given up or who just "check in and out" each day, seeing teaching as a job, not a calling as I see it.
  • This quote reminds me of the responsibility I have in using my gifts to the fullest. I believe that we all have gifts that can make the world a better place. 
  • "We are all meant to shine" is a tough one for me as I was trained as a child to be humble, to play it safe, to not stand out. 
  • I am thinking about and evaluating possibilities for the future. Is the teaching environment I am in really the one that will allow me to do the most good?
As you ponder the quote, what calls to you? Are you putting your most talented and courageous self out there for the world to see? Do you struggle as I do between wanting to stay safe and please others versus being a voice for change?
I hope to learn how others conquer these challenges.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Do You "Leave School at School?"

In teaching it seems that there are endless opportunities to take the job home, both figuratively and concretely speaking. Yesterday, as I expressed my concern about some kids at my school, a colleague said, "Well, you know. There isn't a lot we can change here. So I work really hard to leave school at school. "
Even though this was a mantra clearly expressed to me by others before, I was a bit taken aback. This teacher is one of my allies in my passionate fight for kids:  someone who advocates and cheer-leads for those in her classroom.  Her comment led to reflection and more reflection. "Can I possibly leave my thoughts about school there as I leave each day?" Anyone who knows me would probably never take that bet!
I wish I had that balance..well, sort of.  I have managed to get much of my job done and optimize my time at school, but my thoughts are often caught up in brainstorming possible solutions for my classroom and my students. Not only do I take the job  home with me, but in the car, to the store, on the phone with fellow teacher friends and on social media like Facebook and Twitter. I think about the kids who may not be "instantly loveable" and wonder how we can reach them and help them believe in themselves. I think about the endless responsibilities we have in a screwed up system bound by politicians who decide who gets the money that will help the kids and even worse, "how" we are to teach and inspire those kids to become happy, healthy engaged contributors to society.
If we all just "leave school at school" how will change ever happen? Teaching is not my job, it's my calling.  But clearly, a balance is necessary so that teachers don't end up sounding like this teacher: tired and worn out on the 101st day of the school year.
How do you keep the balance?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What is Motivation Made of?

So, there it is. I ask a big question that many out there are asking as well.  I kind of have a clue on this one. Maybe a tiny clue, but a clue, nonetheless.  Unlike other topics on Twitter where I just say, "Whoah, I didn't know about that glitzy new tool," the business of student engagement and motivation is very interesting to me and I actually know a tiny bit about it!
I run my classroom like a lab, ( not in the white coat, sterile sense, don't worry!) making notes as to what happens when I make small changes. I have to be careful, though, not to assume that I have caused change with my actions. Correlation is not causation.  In any case, the daily reflection helps me transform my classroom into a place where 5 year olds can build the internal self talk and belief : "Yes, I can do it!"
This year, my big focus: student autonomy. No, this does not mean that students run the show (although, if you asked them to tell you the way the classroom "works" they could undoubtedly tell you), but the students are members of a community that thrives and blossoms as a result of their active engagement. Every day each student has a job, each group has a leader that rotates, and students discuss and practice how they will become responsible for themselves as learners. At the end of the day, instead of being rated on their behavior by the teacher, they rate themselves. They ask themselves the questions:  "How did I succeed in doing my work, cooperating with peers and the teacher, and being safe with my body"? They answer these questions individually and share the information with their parents.
When I hear a comment like, "I'm bored," which, thank goodness, I don't hear too often, we take a  moment to talk about how we have to learn certain "material" at school, but it's up to us together to make the journey exciting and memorable. I evaluate my practice when I hear these words, and I examine what is happening in that child's head/body/life that could perhaps interfere with engagement. Am I being irrelevant? Do they not identify with or care about what I am teaching? We live in a world of constant commotion and attention- demanding distractions so it's no wonder that kids seek entertainment in the classroom. With tv's blazing and computers running 24/7, do kids also imitate adults who may be constantly seeking stimulation? Are "we", the adults, able to model a less distracted learning scenario?
As teachers and administrators hold external rewards over the heads of innocent children, and not so innocent adults, I wonder if they have read the research about motivation, about efficacy, and the power of a mindset. If the practices in our schools revolve around giving out medals at an awards ceremony when kids  are "Advanced" or "Proficient", then we will surely lose those children who haven't developed the powerful belief, "Yes, I can." Is it an 8 year old's fault that his name isn't posted up on that wall or that he hasn't received a shiny new medallion? Does watching his friend receive all the glory inspire him to work  harder next time? Or does he shrink down in his chair, dreading the next benchmark test, followed by the next "humiliation" assembly where he will be excluded from a photo of his teachers and their "prides and joys."
I fear that our system is set up to sabotage the very engagement and motivation that will lead us out of this dismal achievement gap situation. We must constantly reflect on our practices and ensure that everything we do gives all kids the message that they can and will be successful.  Our mindsets are revealed in not just what we say, but in "how" and "what" we do each day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Are You Brave Enough to Stand Up?

As I was running up a muddy path today, berating myself for choosing the muddiest path ever on which to christen my brand new running shoes ( yes, they are white and aqua no less) I began to reflect about the discussions I have engaged in this weekend on Twitter and a Facebook group, "The Educator's Neighborhood". I have ventured into discussions with folks I might have previously been intimidated by; their passion and advocacy for kids is fueled by experiences, both personal and educational, and backgrounds of which I am only a bystander. I was a single parent for 18 years but I must admit that being a white single parent in a suburban area does not necessarily mean that I know what every single parent experiences.
As I ran, it seemed like a voice inside was interrogating me.   How can I speak about equity as a white middle class woman? Does anyone care what I  have to say? Wouldn't it be even more powerful for me, as a leader at my site, to have learned from as many of my online colleagues as possible, as I work on this equity team?
As my shoes got muddy and less than pure white, I thought about how this whole issue of equity and my role on the "equity team" at my school is not going to be clean and pretty. We are a relatively non-diverse group of teachers teaching a somewhat diverse group of kids. Is there any wonder that we have an achievement gap?
I know that this road to equity is going to be bumpy and that the proverbial crap will inevitably hit the fan as folks are led to truly evaluate their roles in maintaining barriers to equity in our school. Although we may know how to "say the right things" when the equity consultant visits for a 2 hour meeting, do we know how to practice in a way that gives all kids what they need to believe in themselves and achieve? Do we take the time to really understand our kids, listen to them and reach out to their families?  I have a feeling that I am going to be much less popular as the year continues. And that's okay with me, as long as one more child gets what he/she needs.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writer's Block: Perfectionism Rearing it's Ugly Head?

It's ironic to me that as soon as I begin a blog with "365" a goal to write each day, I am frozen. Although millions of ideas flow through my busy mind each day, I cannot settle and get myself to write!

My reflections on the top 10 reasons for this block:
  1. My mind is too cluttered. I get up early every morning with the intention of writing as an entry to my day. I have fallen into the habit of checking my Twitter stream to read the latest and greatest from those I follow. Bottom line:  I need to write "before" I read.
  2. Comparing myself to others.  I feel like a little fish in a big sea. The more blogs and articles I read, the more I wonder if my writing contributes anything new or measures up. The irony is, I should write more to develop my voice and style.   
  3. Does anyone really care about what I have to say?  I don't write about anything unless I care deeply about it. The risk in sharing is that my deepest, most passionate convictions could be ignored. Which leads me to a deeper reflection: Who cares if they care?
  4. I need to use drafts more. Begin writing and edit later. There is no pressure to post immediately, yet I feel urgent as others seem to blog so often and I have chosen this "365" format.
  5. My potential audience has grown.  I have over 500 followers on Twitter and I am finally brave enough to tweet when I blog. Granted, I only usually tweet once as to not annoy anyone.  Translation: FEAR of FAILURE! Or maybe it's fear of a bad first impression. Once again, does everyone have to like me? 
  6. I am in a "learning" mode lately.* I have discovered so many resources for integrating new practices in my teaching that I am "brain tired." ( *Yes, this is just an excuse, humor me, please!)
  7. Not every post has to be perfect. I am shocked that it took this long to use "that" dreaded word, perfect. Every post should be carefully edited, as I have little tolerance for poor grammar, spelling and passive voice. Does every post need to be perfect? What is perfect anyway?
  8. I am afraid to get into trouble.  Sometimes I want to write about something school-related that I feel passionate about, but I am afraid that I might get myself fired for expressing my convictions. I  need to critically examine this obstacle. Other teachers seem to be able to express convictions without this fear. I do have tenure, but am I prepared to be the sacrificial lamb if I speak up too strongly?
  9. I feel the need to finish what I start. Somewhat related to the earlier item about drafts, I need to be okay with writing something that doesn't lead to publishing.  Sometimes brainstorming and pre-writing lead to other ideas that will be completed later. Some drafts are  more like diary entries that are key for my understanding but not for all eyes to see. 
  10. I have many varied interests.  Now why would this be a barrier to writing? I suppose it's more about deciding "which" blog to post something on that holds me back at times.  I am very interested in the cross-section between brain research, strengths, positive psychology and education. I teach kindergarten full-time but also coach/tutor students between the ages of 8 and 18. My experiences as a former therapist and foster care social worker have colored my view of working on strengths in kids, not deficits.  Many people I talk to are interested in one of those areas but not all of them.
I would love to hear what some of the barriers are for you. What holds you back in your writing? How do you conquer these obstacles? 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Flashes Before Your Eyes..

Last night, I walked along E. Cliff Dr., against the backdrop of the pounding sea and starry sky.  Hand in hand with my husband, trailing behind my son(23) and daughter(21) I found myself watching the backs of their heads, marveling at how they have blossomed into two amazing adults. As my son answered questions about thermodynamics, enjoying the banter with his curious sister, I enjoyed the time to reflect. My mind was like a memory album on a slideshow, flashing from a time they were 6 and 4 playing at the beach to other memories of them pondering the universe, devising experiments and making up their own language.  I felt a bit teary, not in a sad way, but more in a "gratitude" way. I hope that when they both finish school they will land back in this area so we can have more of this special time together.  Most importantly, when we have that opportunity, I vow to never take it for granted. Life does fly by..savor the special moments.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tuning in to Loved Ones...

My kids are coming home this weekend and I am so excited about spending time with them. Both far away at college, one at MIT and one at CSU Humboldt, there are rare moments when all of our schedules converge and we can be together.
SO, what is the point of this ramble? After a week of hearing about losses of loved ones from friends and coworkers, I am committing myself to a weekend free of distractions. I plan on being "tuned in" to my kids. Though they are adults, they need me as much as they did when they were younger, though now  in an emotionally supportive and intellectually inspiring way. 
This moment is all we really have to show our love for our family and friends. What can you do today to "tune in" to your loved ones? I plan to listen more fully.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Insert Foot in Mouth....

I have a routine each morning which helps me ease into the day. I get up at 5:00 a.m., make my coffee, check email and tune in to read tweets from educators and interesting psychology folks on Twitter around the globe. This morning I was a bit bleary-eyed as I answered a question from a fellow tweeter who asked: "What technology would you have in your classroom if you were given the choice?".
I pondered this for a moment, thought of the SMART board in our computer lab and how I would love to have one in my classroom, along with student computers that work!  I tweeted this answer and was met with a question: "Why?" Why would I want an interactive white board? Was this a trick question? In a kindergarten classroom, if you don't have engagement, you have chaos. With bells and whistles and tools, you can engage young learners who will do ANYTHING for a try at touching and interacting with technology. Each week we only have 30 minutes in our school computer lab and the kids are transfixed and focused; they try to read words and learn patterns just over their comfort level, and experiment with new sites and programs. It is a time in my week when every student is engaged.
I answered "student engagement" as my tweet answer and I was met with "How does a SMART board engage students?" I felt as if I had fallen into a trap. I decided to ponder my answer during my commute, got to school and answered: "in the K classroom it's all about "HOW" you use a tool; young students are very attracted to "cool" tools that they can touch". And as I had been driving to work I realized that I really need to think about my goals for my students and thoroughly evaluate which technologies would help me reach those goals. So I tweeted this: "In summary, I clearly need to explore options and think more critically about what I want; then write a proposal to get funded". I was not answered a reply at that point.

So what's my main point here? We need to discover the best tools out there and search for the means to get them in our classroom! Why?  So that we can keep our teaching relevant to kids, engaging and help them prepare for a changing world. I do believe that netbooks or other handheld tools would be great to have in class but  I disagree with some folks who say that interactive white boards are not engaging. Many highly effective teachers use the boards throughout their days, through whole class teaching as well as with small groups of kids who are highly engaged and motivated to learn. I would seek out all possible training and become a teacher who used the tool to open up her students' worlds and expose them to the many resources for learning.  If there are better tools, so be it. I am open minded and aware that I must stay educated and advocate for my kids.  I welcome the discussion that made me stop and think. But I did feel a bit like I had put my foot in my mouth..
What technology do you think a K-6 teacher shouldn't live without?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mindfulness is...

 In an attempt to describe mindful practice, these words come to mind: 

Mentally aware
Insight-provoking
Necessary
Deep
Fulfilling
Underutilized
Listening 
How do these characteristics play out in daily life? By being mentally aware, I reduce the tempation to multi-task, which brain researcher Dr. John Medina in Brain Rules reports is not an efficient way to function. By practicing mindfulness, I gain insights by quieting my mind and listening to the ideas that move forward to my consciousness. Necessary refers to the power of an often neglected practice of quieting the mind for at least 5-10 minutes a day. Deep refers to the powerful meaning and insights gained during mindfulness practice. Fulfilling relates to the sense of meaning and purpose I experience when I reflect on my daily experience and how it relates to my overall mission in life. Underutilized corresponds to my perception that mindfulness is something that many ascribe to but don't follow through with, as our culture perpetuates such a busy mind and active life that it's difficult to stop, reduce the mental clutter and work on purposeful awarenss and action. Listening refers to listening to one's own heart as well as those around him/her.
Mindful living is not an easy feat in a stimulating, often chaotic world.  What  can you do today, to embrace mindfulness and experience its simple power?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Smile..

I recently listened to Zen meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh's, The Art of Mindful Learning.   His quote: "Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful" is simple, yet very powerful. Yesterday,  I set out to smile more, to let go of the rambling worries that occupied my mind, and be more present with my students. I smiled in excitement and delight as a student identified letters he previously did not know. He stared at me for a split second, (as if he was wondering, Why is SHE so happy?) and burst out into a huge smile of his own, proud of his accomplishment. The smile might not seem like much at first glance, but it revealed a connection between us, this young boy working so hard to learn English, and me, working diligently each day to foster his belief that he can learn.
A smile can go beyond words and make a moment beautiful. Being fully present brings opportunities to find humor and joy in the everyday moments. I hope that today we can all just smile a bit more; our world needs the beauty.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday Morning Moment

Mondays, particularly the first Monday back to school after a vacation, can be a challenge to any teacher. (heck, it's a challenge for parents too, racing through the morning routines to get kids ready and to school before the bell rings!) As I survey the anxious feelings in my body: tense shoulders, butterflied stomach, and racing thoughts, I then think: How will the kids feel today? Did they lose sleep last night? Will they be ready to jump back into the routine?
My vow today is to be gentle and patient, with myself and with them. I want to enjoy the smiles as they greet me and each other. I will need to re-establish the safe, positive learning environment with a warm but firm command.  We have lots to learn today, but our first lesson is to be peacefully present.
What is your promise to yourself on this first Monday in January?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Moment in Nature: A Beautiful Sunset


I took advantage of the beautiful weather and ventured out to savor a sunset. I had been struggling today with anxiety over the return to school and realized that a dose of nature might help. The solution: completely free, uncomplicated and only took 30 minutes of the day. I focused on the crashing of the waves as the sun dipped serenely into the ocean.  And I was mindful: savoring the beauty of a sunset.
When was the last time you savored a moment in nature?

So, What is Mindfulness?

I think it's important to begin simply with the definition of what I am about to explore. According to one of my heroes in the area of mindfulness and meditation, Jon Kabat- Zinn:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
    On purpose, in the present moment, and
    nonjudgmentally.
So what have I undertaken for myself, committing to a blog entry every day when I live a very busy life filled with teaching and tutoring. What was I thinking?
Being mindful only takes a shift of thought, a purposeful awareness to stop and think before and while acting. By committing to writing each day, I hope to train myself to stop and smell the flowers ( so cliché but so true!) and to be more in the moment when interacting with the precious 5 year olds I encounter each day. It only takes a moment of insensitivity to say or do something that threatens the trust you have been building with students.  I hope that this journey will lead me to more awareness and self-discipline in my work of building efficacy in young learners.  I also hope to inspire others to take some time to explore the value of incorporating more “mindful” moments in their daily lives.
What is one area you would like to improve in your life? Would increasing your "mindfulness" help you to achieve that goal? Please share!