#Edublogs Club (Post 3)

Prompt: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. 

Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I LOVE sentence starters, especially for such a big topic as this. It helps me organize my thoughts a bit and make sure to address all parts of the task. I don’t want to get political, so I won’t name names or get too specific with facts and details . . . except with one of the starters. (See below.)

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for or with . . . had a lot of life wisdom to share along with professional experience. This person had integrity and was a real team player. No job was too menial, despite the fact that she was the “face” of our school and the buck stopped with her. She handled discipline, was our instructional leader, and helped the lunch ladies pick up trash students left behind in the quad after lunch. She didn’t play favorites with the teachers, and she was a plain speaker. She believed in every student’s ability to learn, and she knew every one of our school’s students by name – and we had nearly 1000 of them.
  • Teaching leadership skills to students . . . is probably something I should do a bit more of in my classroom. I don’t teach the leadership class, but that doesn’t mean I cannot try to focus on a character trait of the month or some similar endeavor. (Our leadership class has done that for the school at various times over the years I’ve been at our school.) In truth, I like to “be the change I want to see in the world,” though, and try to model good citizenship for my students through being a responsible, good citizen myself. I try to treat every student respectfully and fairly. I am trying to be more mindful. (I even bought and started reading a new book, Mindfulness for Teachers, over Winter Break.) I am hoping that this mindfulness approach to my teaching will transfer to my students; that they themselves will notice will respond rather than react in their relationships with others at our school – staff and peers alike. Hopefully, citizenship and leadership skills will improve as a result.
  • The qualities of a true leader include . . . but are not limited to: (1) avoidance of gossip; (2) enthusiasm; (3) the ability to be a team player; (4) competence and skill; (5) the ability to be a friend to all and to bridge the divides that keep people apart; (6) oratory and empathy skills; (7) integrity; (8) optimism rather than pessimism; (9) patience with others; and (10) respect for others. These are not necessarily listed in order of importance to me; they may change in importance depending upon the situation.
  • Leaders don’t . . . give up. They are persistent in helping their team solve problems. They are willing to think creatively or “outside the box” to solve problems.
  • Leaders never . . . play favorites, as Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem “If“. In his poem, Kipling admonished the reader to remember that it is the mature and wise adult who treats everyone the same: “If all men count with you, but none too much” (Line 28). I also love this poem because Kipling additionally wrote about how important it is for someone to not lose their wits when all around him (or her) are losing theirs. Sometimes being a leader is difficult, and he or she must blaze a path or act the maverick, going against the flow and conventional wisdom. This is difficult. Leaders manage to do this and never lose sight of the end goal.
  • Leaders always . . . keep on trying. They are not content once they have reached a goal. Goal attainment is merely an opportunity to reflect and evaluate, and set a new goal. They are not content with what is.
  •  I wish my school administrator or boss . . . made a few more “top down” decisions. (This is applicable to to all levels of leadership in my district.) This is mostly a personal preference for me. Personality wise, I am a “rule follower” and I don’t like ambiguity. Lately, our district has been focusing on “guaranteed and viable” (G & V) standards – non-negotiable skills that all students must demonstrate mastery with – for continued success in school. To give teachers more “ownership” in the process, each site has been encouraged to come up with their own set of G & V standards. This has resulted in confusion and a lack of uniformity across our district. If someone had stepped up to leadership and just said, “These are it!” then my colleagues and I at my site, and across our district, would be able to get to work together more quickly on creating a standard set of proficiency scales, learning goals, and common formative assessments we all could use. I feel like all of us are spinning our wheels and recreating the wheel, each at our own school sites, when we could be more effective and efficient. I like knowing exactly what you want me to do.
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on . . . being more “present” for my students. I get so focused sometimes on all of the assessments I am supposed to administer (and the results thereof), and I start thinking of numbers rather than personalities. I feel like in the last 18 months, I’ve become somewhat detached from my true reason for teaching, which is twofold: (1) I want to share my love of learning with others, and (2) I want to be an advocate for youth. Really, that’s what makes me most happy in my job – just being there each day, sharing what I know, helping them learn new things, and just enjoying getting to work with some really cool youth. My mindfulness practice is helping me to become more present with students in the classroom, to focus on the students’ personalities and emotions, and to enjoy and accept them for who they are (thirteen-year-olds!). I want both them (and me) to stress less and enjoy the process more.
  • A leader I admire . . . well, there are so many! Who would I love to meet and chat with from history (or present day) if I had a chance? The list includes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama; Pope Francis; religious leaders such as Jesus, St. Thomas, the Buddha, Muhammad, and Job (from the Bible); Queen Elizabeth II; Ghandi; Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; Harriet Tubman; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; writer Jane Austen; Ada Lovelace . . . this is not an exhaustive list.
  • Peer coaching . . . is something that I am currently getting a chance to engage in. There is a peer on my staff to whom I act as a mentor. I hope I am doing a good job! (I think this person would say that I am.) We should probably spend more time together consistently, but this person knows I am available at any time – in person or by text. I try not to give advice, but instead to share my experience and offer my own perspective on issues that have come up. I try to be a good example of what a teacher should be to my peer.
  • Effecting change . . . is hard, plain and simple. As Newton postulated, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” This includes inanimate objects as well as humans (I think). Change is scary for a lot of people, and I include myself in that group. People are resistant to change, so getting them to take that leap of faith despite the fear . . . well, if a person can get others to do that, that’s the mark of a good leader. I hope I am inspiring to (at least some of) my students, and that our time together this academic year will lead them to try something new or do something differently. If I can do that, I will have been a success.

#EdublogsClub (Post 2)

Prompt:

  • Write a post that discusses your classroom or place of work. Some topics you may wish to address include:
  • The physical space – how you approach layout of furniture, technology, etc.
  • The aesthetics – share a photo and/or discuss decorating your space
  • Staying organized – how you do (or don’t) keep organized
  • Tips, tricks, or advice related to the above
  • Anything else you wi
    sh to share!
  • We want just a little window into your daily work life 🙂

My classroom is my home away from home, so I want to feel as comfortable there as possible. I like it clean and tidy. I don’t like a lot of stuff on my counter space, and the closets are organized.

Our interactive word wall for ELA and HSS terms

I like space to move in my classroom. I have seven tables, at which sit five to six students each. I used to have individual desks, but they were a trapezoidal shape.  Devising seating arrangements for a square-ish, rectangular-ish classroom with trapezoidal desks was difficult. I just didn’t feel like any of us – students or me or any visitors – could move well. The flow is really important. So, this year, with the tables, I feel like that has really opened up the flow to my class. I try to change seating arrangements two times during the quarter, or about six to eight times a year, just to change things up a bit.

My classroom is very colorful. To cover my bulletin boards, I bought some Peanuts Gang-themed fabric . . . about three to four different kinds that all compliment each other. (I love Charlie Brown and Snoopy.) Back in my first year teaching, I made Peanuts Gang characters on tag board, so those hang on the wall, too, in various places.

Linus and student avatars with QR codes to student blogs.

To go with the colorful wall space, I have four different colored chair options for students – red, green, yellow, and blue. I just wanted more than one color, and my principal was game for it. It helps, sometimes, with management, too, because I can say, “If you are in a red or yellow chair, please . . . “ and then give students some directions.

Different colored chairs with student avatars (with QR codes to blogs!) in the background

 

 

My students all have a space on my walls, too. Each student makes an avatar at the beginning of the year to represent themselves using an app on their iPads. Then, as we set up our blogs, I also have them create a QR code for their blog and share that with me. I print them out and place them next to the respective avatars.

 

With respect to organization, I pride myself on staying organized. I want my students to continue to develop their own organizational habits, ones that will serve them well in life as they mature. (I teach seventh graders.) Some students don’t have organizational habits that are as well-developed as others, so I see my organizational routine as sort of a model for them. We do a lot of stuff digitally at our site, so my classroom website has digital copies of all of the current quarter’s assignments available for students to download. I also have an “extras” binder on my countertop for students to obtain paper copies after an absence, or in case they have lost their original. There is a “No-Name Graveyard” in my room for papers that are turned in to me without a name. There is also a “purple basket” which is my special basket. If students have late work, work from an absence, or work they want to turn in early, it goes there. It helps me ensure the assignment gets place in the right “pile” and doesn’t get lost.

#EdublogsClub (Post 1)

Well this is not my first blog post, by a long shot, but I definitely don’t blog as much as other teachers. It was something that I thought I’d start trying after viewing a session about student blogging at the (Computer Using Educators) CUE conference in Palm Springs back in 2013. At the time, my students and I had Google Apps for Education (GAFE) accounts, but Blogger was (and still is) blocked by our district. So, I decided on using Edublogs, and that’s how I ended up here. I’m not a “regular” blog reader – I’m often too busy to sit down and delve too deeply into too many blogs – but I do like to read Edutopia, Edudemic, and Catlin Tucker. One tech tool that I use to keep up with blogs is an app called Feedly. (It is also web-based, too.) All of my RSS feeds “dump” into Feedly, including those of my students, so I can keep up with recent posts a little more easily. I don’t really have too much advice to others (especially the new peeps!) except to just keep after it and build discipline. I got out of blogging regularly myself in the past 18 months because I was working on my Master’s degree; literally every free second I had was spent working on assignments for my own professors or grading my own students’ work and planning for our days. I am joining the #EdublogsClub to recommit to my own blogging, and I am hoping that it will help generate readers for my own students’ blogs. (Sorry I am late with this first post!)

Bass Guitarist or Lead?

I thought about this question as I was driving home today. It is an interesting question to ask someone if you are trying to get to know them a bit. Lead guitarists are up front in center, and they get all the attention. They like it, too. Bass guitarists are important, though; music wouldn’t sound the same without them. They are a little more behind-the-scenes, however. They don’t get as much attention as the lead does, but they’re still cool. Which would you be, the bass guitarist or the lead?

Myself? I think I would be the bass guitarist. I like to be important, but I like to stay low key. I don’t like to draw a lot of attention to myself. I also love the sound of the bass guitar. There’s a bass riff that plays over and over in one of my favorite movies; I was watching it today as I was grading papers in first period. It has stuck with me all day. Unfortunately, it isn’t on the soundtrack for that movie, and believe me, I’ve looked. I am a firm believer that if something is on the Internet, I’ll be able to find it. And I have not been able to find it in all the years I’ve been searching. There’s a few other bass lines that I love:

  • the bass background melody in “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash
  • the opening bass riff in “Our House” by Madness
  • “The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash
  • the opening bars of “Mountain Song” by Janes Addiction
  • “Wonderful” by Adam Ant

All of this leads me to my next question: What is on your playlist of late?

I’ve been really stressed out, so I’ve been gravitating to songs that I can play loudly and ones that I can scream along to as I drive. Yes, scream along to, not sing. One of the only times I am truly by myself is when I am in the car driving home; I don’t have my kids with me because they come home with Mr. Rovira. So I can play my music as loud as I want, or “so loud that my ears pop” as Riton says. Especially with the songs that have awesome bass lines, it makes my bones vibrate. Nice! I made a new Spotify playlist for my screaming songs. It contains:

  • Smashing Pumpkins
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • System of a Down
  • Marilyn Manson

What are you listening to? What should I add to my playlist?

In Celebration of “Random Acts of Poetry Day” . . .

Today is the commemoration of Random Acts of Poetry Day. To celebrate this day, people are encouraged to

engage in moments of guerilla poetry. Take your chalk in hand and scrawl the words of your heart across sidewalks and alley walls, ramble madly, like a sweaty toothed madman, or wax lyrical about the most important love of your heart. Better with word than pen? Then stand on a street corner shouting poetry to the wind, imparting onto all the joy and pain, sorrow and exultation of your soul, heart, and mind. To be a poet is to walk the wild lands of impossibility and imagination, and Random Acts of Poetry Day is your opportunity to, for just a moment, bring others into the world in which you live (Days of the Year).

So, to that end, I am posting an “I AM” poem. I frequently assign students to do this at the beginning of each academic year, but we did something a little different this year to change things up. So, I’ll post it here now for your perusal and enjoyment. Even though I wrote this years ago, it still holds true for me today.

 

I AM

I AM intense and driven.
I WONDER about a lot of things . . . that’s why I read part of the encyclopedia every night.
I HEAR a comic “duh duh duh” when my mom says, “We need to talk.”
I SEE myself as a grown-up Lucy van Pelt from Peanuts.
I WANT just a little more time to myself.
I AM intense and driven.

I PRETEND that I’m having conversations with people while I’m driving so that when we really do talk, I say what I want to say correctly.
I FEEL challenged when I have five things to do at once and I don’t know which one to tackle first at the expense of the others.
I TOUCH heaven just a little bit whenever I hear one of my children say, “I love you, Mommy.”
I WORRY about failing or not “measuring up.”
I CRY when I think about children who are seriously ill, malnourished, or unloved.

I AM intense and driven.
I UNDERSTAND, as Nietzsche wrote, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
I SAY drunk drivers should receive drastically stiffer penalties for their crime.
I DREAM about nightmarishly bizarre scenarios, usually.
I TRY to teach things differently and more effectively with each passing year.
I HOPE that I inspire someone this year.
I AM intense and driven.

— Jenny Rovira
September 2007

Does Nagaina Deserve Any Mercy?

Recently in class, we read a short story called “Rikki-tikki-tavi” by Rudyard Kipling. This tale is about a mongoose who goes to live with a human family in India. In the garden of his family’s house live snakes, including a king cobra named Nagaina. Nagaina and her husband, Nag, like to kill the young of other animals in the garden, such as birds and frogs. Rikki and Nagaina eventually get into a huge altercation. Rikki wants to kill her. Should Rikki show Nagaina any mercy in this showdown between the two of them?

Just as in life — where issues such as capital punishment are nuanced and there are multiple perspectives on the issue — the decision of whether or not to kill Nagaina is a tough one. There would be those that would call for Rikki to show some lenience. They would say that Nagaina was only acting according to her nature, and that she shouldn’t be faulted for that. She is a snake, and snakes are predatory animals. Her natural prey are other small animals — and mongooses. When she is hunting and eating those creatures, she is only doing so to satisfy the will to survive. Another reason others point to as justification for treating Nagaina less harshly is that she has experienced a lot of tragedy in her life recently. She has lost both her husband, Nag, and her babies (due to hatch out of their eggs) in a violent manner. People who experience such a debilitating loss such as that are usually out of their minds with grief. Supporters of Nagaina would say that she should not be held totally responsible for her actions because she wasn’t thinking logically and rationally.

On the other hand, there are some who say that such emotion is no excuse. There is no justification for treating the other animals the way she does — namely, terrorizing and eating them — and for that, she deserves to die. Those who call for Nagaina’s death point to the fact that, at her core, she is an evil creature, and such creatures cannot be allowed to live freely in society. For example, from the very beginning of her interactions with Rikki, she had nothing but ill intentions for him; she sought to kill him as he was kept distracted by her husband, Nag. Speaking of Nag, Kipling describes him as having a “cold heart.” Only another snake with a cold heart, like Nagaina, could be happy with a cold-hearted spouse.

If you would like to read about what Rikki actually decided to do — kill her or let her live — pick up a copy of the narrative to find out.

The Time I Thought I Couldn’t Do Something . . . But I Learned Otherwise

Recently we had our first district writing assessment. The prompt that we responded to was a narrative prompt, specifically a personal narrative. The prompt asked students to think about a time they were discouraged and believed that they would not be able to accomplish a specific task; the prompt also asked them to write about how they overcame that initial doubt and accomplished something that they did not think they could. Students have now received their scores back on this prompt. I asked them to type in their response and publish it on their blog. So, in the spirit of being a good model blogger, I am re-publishing my response to that same prompt. Enjoy!

 

One of the things that becomes obvious to others as they get to know me well is that I am an incredibly pessimistic person. That is, I look at the world from the “glass is empty” viewpoint. I am apprehensive in new and novel situations, sure that something will go wrong. I am able to catastrophize. (This a real word in the dictionary to describe how one can take a seemingly normal scenario and draw it out in his or her mind to a very depressing conclusion — something that, in all probability, would never happen.) For example, let’s say I got sick. Playing the “What If Catastrophizing Game” this is how it might go: I would go to the doctor and find out I had a chronic illness that was not easily treatable. This would cause me to have to take off work. Maybe I would get fired because I couldn’t work. Then I would have no money, and no way to pay for health insurance. I would use up any money I had in my savings account, and maybe have to sell my house to get money for my care. I would be destitute and become homeless. It would be awful.

This is how I think.

So when my husband, who was in the Army, sat me down one day shortly after 9/11 and told me that he was being deployed . . . well, I went into a tailspin. My mind immediately began to race and catastrophize as I began to cry and wonder how I was going to get through the next (scary) year all by myself. I was sure I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t be able to take care of all that I had to do. He was going to go off and he was going to die. Then my baby (because I was expecting) would grow up and never know his dad. And . . . and . . . and . . . This was going to be a long, trying year. I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. I was sure I wasn’t.

One of the first things I faced alone was a broken water heater. A broken water heater isn’t the end of the world — one simply calls a plumber and gets a new one — but to me, the fact that I had literally just dropped off my husband at the armory and had come home to a broken water heater was an omen of things to come. It confirmed my worst fears that this deployment was not going to be easy. It was going to take everything out of me. Then, about three weeks after he left, I faced having to fly to New Orleans for his brother’s wedding. We were supposed to go together. It was my first visit there. He was going to show me where he went to college, and it was meant to be a time with family, but I dreaded having to go now. I was afraid to fly, for one thing. What if they hadn’t managed to corral all the terrorist cells? Was there an air marshall on my flight, incognito, ready to subdue any hijackers? I ended up flying to New Orleans without incident. I even managed to enjoy myself. I thought of my husband the whole time, though.

My husband left shortly after 9/11. This was not a regular Army mobilization, where he has advance notice of a year or more that another deployment is in the works. He left very hastily. Because his deployment was meant to be a year duration, he would be missing all the major winter holidays. That was the next thing I had to face alone. I am already a person that intensely dislikes winter. I loathe that the days are shorter — a full four to five hours less sunlight sometimes! — and I abhor the stress of holiday shopping. There is no “getting into the holiday spirit” for me; I merely try to survive the holidays and get through them. I am a Grinch. This holiday season would be doubly difficult. Luckily, I was able to fly to visit him over Thanksgiving. He was stationed in the United States, in Utah, for homeland defense. Though it was wonderful to see him, and I got to see it snow for the first time, it was one of the most depressing Thanksgivings I have ever spent. We were away from home and both of our families. We had nowhere to eat. (He didn’t want to eat on base.) We ended up having a meal at a Denny’s in Salt Lake City because it was one of the only places open on a holiday. I was baby-sick on top of everything, and depressed, so I didn’t eat much. It tore my heart apart for me to say goodbye and go back home, even knowing I could fly back in four short weeks to spend time there over Christmas vacation. It was even harder to say goodbye then.

To help me cope, my husband bought me a dog, which I named Patton. (George Patton was a famous World War II general, so I thought that was an appropriate name.) Taking care of a puppy was good training for taking care of the baby I was expecting. Patton got me busy taking a daily walks, and I was so busy taking care of him that my mind was kept occupied on something positive instead of focusing on all I was unhappy about. I wasn’t crying as much and I started sleeping soundly. I began to feel slightly better. It was especially imperative that I eat well and take care of myself; it wasn’t just me that I had to worry about, after all. I found out that our baby was a boy, and began to prepare for his arrival. My bump got bigger daily, and I spent a little time each day cleaning out and organizing the room that would be his. I enrolled in “Expecting Mother” classes with my mom, who was going to be my coach when it was time to go to the hospital. I didn’t feel as sick anymore. Instead of losing weight, I was gaining weight like I was supposed to. This was turning out not to be as horrible as I thought it would be.

Spring came, and the days lengthened. That alone brightened my spirits. Then, at the beginning of June, I called my mom. “Mom,” I said, “I think it is time to take me to the hospital. Can you come get me?” Thing 1, our son, had decided this was the day! My mom raced to pick me up at work, take me home to get my things, and then take me to the hospital. I called my husband, “The baby is coming! I’m going to the hospital!” He said that he would try to catch a flight into Los Angeles as soon as he could, but he wasn’t promising anything. I arrived at the hospital and things proceeded rapidly from there. It was finally when I was in the hospital having a baby that I realized I could do anything — even survive a deployment I was sure was going to mean the end of my world and all my happiness. I was having a baby on my own, for goodness sake! (My mom was more interested in taking pictures than being a coach.) If I could do that, then there was no limit to what I could accomplish.

In the end, my husband made it just in time. His sister brought him straight from the airport to the hospital, and Thing 1 arrived 30 minutes after my husband did. This whole experience, though, taught me that I am much stronger than I think I am. I don’t give myself enough credit when it comes to getting through the tough times. I am far more resilient than I feel. This realization was tested not two years later when my husband sat me down again and told me the Army was deploying him AGAIN, this time to Kosovo in the Balkans and for a longer length of time. I cried, and I was upset. (I was also expecting again!) But this time, even though I knew the next two years would be difficult, I knew in my heart of hearts that I would be okay.

We Made it to Louisiana, and We’re Tired

Getting quality sleep on this trip has been an issue. It is always nice to come home, because you get to come home to YOUR bed, which is an awesome feeling. No hotel bed is going to be as good as mine. On top of that, there are five of us squished into a hotel room, so our normal sleep patterns are disrupted. The first night, Mr. T wanted to sleep with me because he was crabby and tired from our traveling. We had a king sized bed to share. About half-way through the night, I woke up to find him laying perpendicular to me. He also talks and whimpers in his sleep. This, of course, prevents me from sleeping well. I also didn’t have any access to wifi in our first hotel, and I normally listen to late-night talk shows on the TuneIn Radio app, so I was really having a hard time falling to sleep to begin with. And, when I woke up in the middle of the night (as I did a lot), I had nothing to help me drift off back to sleep.

The next night Mr. Rovira slept on the floor because sleeping with the two boys in one bed was just too crunched. Plus, he drank a Mountain Dew too late in the day, so he could not sleep and didn’t want to disturb us.

The next night, I slept with the boys, and it was squished, but I toughed it out on approximately eight inches of mattress. I had wifi that night, to listen to my shows to help me get to sleep, but with Mr. T attempting to move perpendicular again, I was woken up A LOT.

The next night, we put all the kids together in one bed. We could see quickly that wasn’t going to work: “Mr. T! Stop moving!” and “Thing 1, stop stealing the covers and burrowing!” and “No, I want to be in the middle!” plus some intentional farting made us decide to make Thing 1 and Thing 2 sleep in one bed while Mr. T had to sleep with Mr. Rovira and I. Again, not a lot of sleep, but this time it was because Mr. T woke up about five times claiming to have had a nightmare. Oh, and did I mention that I normally sleep on a king-sized bed? Yep, these hotel room beds were queen-sized. To spare ourselves all of the conflict the next night, Thing 1 graciously volunteered to sleep on the floor. I slept with Thing 2, and Mr. T and Mr. Rovira slept in the other bed. That was a pretty decent night’s sleep. But then we had to drive, like, 500 miles the next day. It gets tiring.

The NEXT night we lucked out! At this point, we had made it to Wichita. Apparently, when I made our reservations, I booked us a “two queen bed suite” so not only did we have the usual two queen-sized beds that we were trying to get used to, but also we had a COUCH! The kids took dibs to see who got to sleep on the couch; Mr. T won.

Where's Mr. T? Can you find him?
Where’s Mr. T? Can you find him?

We all got a pretty decent night’s sleep that night.

In Dallas, our beds were too hard. Mr. T volunteered to sleep on the floor that time. He serenaded us to sleep by singing “God Bless America” six times. It was awesome. I slept with Thing 1 that night. I should know this from our visit to London last summer, but he totally steals covers. I woke up cold at one point in the night and had to steal them back.

Now, at Uncle Marcus and Aunt Clare’s house, we have more comfortable digs (for free!) but it still isn’t home. I love everything we’re doing here, but it will be so satisfying to peel back the covers of my own bed and drift off to a peaceful slumber at home.