Reflections

Geocaching: Inadvertent Adventures as a Beginner

When was the last time you were a total beginner at something? 

This past week, I tried something completely new to me: Geocaching! I’ve heard about this for years, but I was never curious enough to actually try it. It wasn’t until ISTE this past June that my friend Wanda Terral, a super geocacher, gave me a little spark. I downloaded the app, and made a mental note to try it over the summer.

I tried Geocaching!

According to the Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”

geocaching
Geocaching! Download the app and get started!

Finally, last week, I got up the courage to go out and try it. I did a little bit of basic research first (here’s a good place to start), like, what am I supposed to do when I find it? (Answer: open it, sign the logbook, then put it back. Easy enough, right?) Then, I played around with the app for a few minutes before I left home. There was one located about a 10 minute walk from my house, at a local park!

Ollie wanted to come too, so we walked (insert doggie head-tilt at the word walk) to the park together. I oriented myself to the park layout, and figured out where-ish the geocache would be located. Then I searched. And I searched. And I searched. And, I sat down and stared at my phone. What do these things look like? How hidden will it be?

And it was a lot harder than I expected

I almost gave up and walked home. I felt ridiculous, slowly walking at the edge of the park and staring into the bushes. There were other people at the park, surely they all thought I looked strange, walking near the back edge of the park with my dog. In fact, I walked halfway back to the street, before turning around. I felt defeated.

That’s when I realized, THIS is how it feels to be a total beginner at something! It feels awkward, embarrassing, and distressing. I took a deep breath, did a bit more how-to research, pulled up the app again, and used the GPS tracker to get within about 5 feet of where the geocache was supposed to be hidden.

But, I persevered, and I was successful!

Ollie geo 1
Ollie says, “Mama, what is this?!”

Then, I peeked into the bushes, and dug around a little…and found it! It was hooked to the fence, hidden by some leaves, but obvious once I saw it.

I couldn’t stop smiling! I did it! That feeling of exhilaration–I haven’t felt that in SO long. It’s like the first time you are successful in an escape room or Breakout EDU; you know you worked hard, and now you have a great pictures to capture that moment. Plus, the journey felt way more important than what was inside the box/can/container.

I was so caught up on that feeling, I only took a few pictures–all of them Ollie + the geocache!

Then, I reflected on my experience

On the walk home, between meeting new doggie friends, I asked myself a few questions:

  • Would this have been less scary if I had someone like Wanda with me to guide/coach me through my first geocaching experience?
  • Would this have been more fun (and less awkward) if I brought along a friend, even if they’d never tried it before?
  • Was the seemingly endless discomfort erased once I was successful?
  • What needs to happen for me to try this again?
  • How often do I ask my students and colleagues to “just try it,” but then leave them without support?

Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s good to be a beginner every once in a while. This experience helped to remind me that we all have to start somewhere.

I didn’t go out geocaching to intentionally experience being a beginner, or have all these feelings, or write a blog post about it. I thought it would be something cool to try, and I also expected it to be easy, like walking up to a PokeStop in Pokemon Go–as in, it would just be there, and I’d say “yay!” and move along.

Ollie geo 2
Ollie loves it when he gets to come on adventures, like walks!

I’m sold, and I’m definitely going to try it again. Who wants to go with me? There are lots in San Diego. Or, if we’re traveling at a conference/summit/workshop together, let’s go on a little adventure.

Ok, and seriously, if I’m not already happily nerding on this experience, I also learned that the term for a non-geocacher is a…muggle! Yes, as in, Harry Potter.

Reflections

ISTE 2018 Reflection

I am currently in Post-ISTE Recovery Mode, and finally have enough energy to reflect on the past 5 days. When I think back to my ISTE 2016 and ISTE 2017 experiences, I realize just how crazy these adventures are.

Spent a great morning with Martha, my YEN Scholarship Mentee! 

One of the coolest parts of ISTE this year was being a Young Educator Network Scholarship Mentor. Each year, ISTE awards 10 conference registration scholarships to local teachers. Mentors are paired with these scholarship winners, and we spend Sunday morning getting to know each other, orienting our mentees to the overwhelmingness of ISTE, and pass along some advice. I emailed with Martha before ISTE, and loved finally meeting her! For those of you attended ISTE or followed along with #notatiste18, please take a minute to fill out this form–I’d love to collect your advice and takeaways for ISTE 2019 newbies!

When I attended ISTE 2016 in Denver, that was my first time meeting many of my friends. Reflecting back, I’ve come so far both personally and professionally. It’s hard to attend these conferences, and not feel many new feels–some of which are uncomfortable. Since my past 2 years’ reflections have covered a lot of the ISTE basics, I’m going to take a different spin this year. Below are some of my growth areas over the last 3 ISTE conferences.

Be in the Moment

Life goal, achievement unlocked! I got to be the Pear Deck pear for 5 mins!

There is always so much going on at ISTE! When we say “yes” to one session or social, we’re saying “no” to at least one other thing we really really want to attend. Remove FOMO (fear of missing out) from your vocabulary, and enjoy where you are, and who you’re sharing this experience with. If you’re #notatiste, celebrate that social media allows you to learn along with us at the conference.

A big shift for me this year was I didn’t worry about finding all the people, only to run off to find someone else minutes later. I enjoyed some smaller group adventures and even some one-on-one adventures! I loved this quality time with great friends!

I’ve learned not to stress about what I’m missing, and instead focus on hugging the people I’m with! And, I’m so grateful I did. I have fewer pictures from this trip, and more happy memories.

It’s Ok to Feel Impostor Syndrome

Every single person presenting at the conference is a human, just like me. Some get gigantic stages, and some are attendees. We all bring value and expertise in our own ways. And, we all had to start our learning process somewhere. As I have shifted my classroom to mastery-based grading, I have also shifted my outlook on my own learning to mastery-based.

Presenting on #PottyPD at the EdTechTeam booth.

I had the opportunity to present at the EdTechTeam booth for 20 minutes on #PottyPD. Even though I’ve presented and keynoted around the US, this made me super nervous. The night before, I had a dream that I had to go up completely unprepared. Typical teacher, right? I’m grateful for a few people who offered words of encouragement and hugs before I took the stage.

I have to remember that when someone has The Microphone, they have put hours and hours of work into learning and preparing to get themselves where they are today. I can’t compare the start of my learning journey to the middle of someone else’s! In the past (ok, honestly, happens all the time now, but I’m better at identifying it!), I my inside narrative would tell me that I’m not good enough. With a shift in my mindset, I realize it’s all about putting in the hard work.

Tired and Happy

One cool part about joining a bunch of friends in a different city is spontaneous adventures! A highlight of ISTE sightseeing was visiting the Willis (Sears) Tower and taking fun pictures in the glass boxes. The wait to get up was long, and thankfully I had some great friends to chat with.

Willis Tower SkyDeck with incredible friends!

With all the fun and adventure comes balance. I packed a healthy lunch for myself each day, plus extra food to give to friends. It brings me so much joy to keep my friends fueled. I didn’t do a great job of staying hydrated, but got better as the week went on.

Now, I’m home and excited to enjoy my 3 weeks of unscheduled summer!!

Reflections

Tips for Preventing the Teacher Summer Slide

A few weeks back, there was some Twitter buzz on what good teachers should or should not do with their summer break. Should we be learning as much as we can, preparing for our new students, and collaborating with our PLN? Should we be 100% unplugged, relax with our family, and not think about school until the night before we go back? Last summer, I wrote about Navigating the Sea of Shoulds, and pushing back against all the things we should do.

We all have our own summer priorities and ways we want to spend this time off. The key here is to find what works best for each of us to ensure we reach the first day of school with our whole and rested selves!

La Jolla Cove
One of my first summer outings was catching the sunset at La Jolla Cove!

I reflected on my school year in last week’s blog post, and mentioned that it was a stressful and emotionally draining year. I didn’t quite realize the full extent until now, as I am struggling to come out of the fog. As much as I have relaxed at home and traveled to present at conferences (all of which help me decompress), I still feel the weight of the year.

As educators, we worry about kids and the “summer slide” where they lose some content knowledge during their time off. My district has only 6 weeks off for summer–a decision made before I entered the district 7 years ago, and presumably to help mitigate the summer slide.

What we don’t talk about is teachers and the summer slide! I know my audience is mostly friends on Twitter, so maybe this doesn’t entirely apply to this crowd, since we all embrace a growth mindset and are seeking opportunities (via Twitter) to grow as teachers and leaders. Nonetheless, how can we make sure we are intentional with our time, even during our summer break?

My take? I’m going to take the same advice/summer assignment I give to my students!

Read a Book

This one is easy. You don’t need to tell me twice to go read a book! I’m hoping to read a mix of YA lit, education books, and nonfiction this summer. Plus, I’ll sprinkle in a few audiobooks during my plane flights. Even with all my travel so far this year, I’ve only finished 2 books.

My summer “to read” stack!

And, I admit, I’ve been watching more TV than I usually do–with new seasons of Masterchef and Food Network Star (really, the only two shows I regularly watch!), lots of baseball games, and the World Cup.

I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on some of my summer books on my book blog!

I want to return to school with a few more recommendations for my students. And I hope they have some for me too.

Give Someone a Hug

When I give this homework assignment to my students, I’m met with some incredulous looks. Yes, yes, I am asking you to go hug someone! Yes, it can be me!

This assignment is less about the hug, and more about seeking out people who we value, trust, and enjoy being around.

I’ll be at ISTE next week. Come find me, give me a hug, then let’s take a selfie!

Go Outside

It’s so easy for me to spend an entire day sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling Twitter, eating ice cream, and reading books. I know there are plenty of people out there that “go outside” is second nature. It’s like, third nature for me (if that wasn’t a thing, now it is). I have a hard time getting myself there, but once outside, I’m happy!

Zoo adventure with my friend Nick! 

One of my favorite places in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo. With my membership pass, I can always bring in a guest for free. When I think about ways to get myself outside longer than walking my dog, hanging with the animals at the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and learning about endangered species sounds like an excellent idea! And, this leads me to my next point…

Learn Something!

Summer is a great time for learning something that interests us! I don’t assign my students summer reading or experiments for science. Instead, I want them to spend this time learning something new on their own. We are surrounded by so many sources of knowledge, from videos, to the internet, to local museums, to family members.

One great thing about San Diego is that different museums in Balboa Park are open to San Diego residents on Tuesdays (see the schedule here). I’ll be around for a few Tuesdays, and I look forward to visiting some museums.

I know I owe it to myself and my future students to take care of me. It feels 100% selfish at times, but I know ultimately this investment will pay off down the road.

How are you resting and recharging over summer?

Let us know in the comments below 🙂

Reflections

2017-2018 School Year Reflection

It has been quite a year. I just finished year 6 of teaching, and I know I’ve grown quite a bit. I am grateful for some fantastic leadership opportunities through the Teacher Leadership Book Study, Teacher Leadership Academy, and speaking and various conferences.

When I look back at my goals for the 2017-2018 school year, I know I accomplished a few big goals.

Social Media

I did a better job of incorporating social media into my classroom, both through interacting with students and by allowing students to take over posting responsibilities. There is still more I’d like to do next year, but for now, I’m happy with how our classroom accounts are going.

Common Sense Media Certified School

This year, we worked hard and became a Common Sense Media Certified School! I used the Common Sense Media curriculum, recreated the lessons using Pear Deck, then shared them with staff (read more here). Each department and grade level was responsible for teaching one 45 minute lesson. My teachers appreciated that there was little prep work they needed to do, since everything was included in the Pear Deck slides. Even some who are hesitant with technology dove in! This also produced fantastic conversations, both with staff and with students. By no means have we solved our cyberbullying problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Next year, we will recertify during the fall semester. And, I am revising the curriculum to push out district-wide so our district can become a Common Sense Media Certified District!

Hosting a student teacher

I blogged about my experiences having a student teacher back in January. I didn’t get placed with one for the spring semester–HR does the placements, not the SDSU cohort leads. I loved being able to reflect on my own teaching, and help someone else build their strong foundation. In spring, we had 2 student teachers down the hall from me, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Together we reflected, talked about successes and challenges of teaching, and continued to build strong skills. Even if I wasn’t their guide teacher, I appreciated our reflective conversations!

But, this year was really stressful…

Honestly, this felt like my worst year teaching. Not the teacher skills part, but my stress level was above and beyond any of the past years. I had a lot going on, both at work and outside of work, that made it difficult to stay focused on the big picture. There were plenty of moments where I was in survival-mode, and I know my lessons were just so-so.

I think this is called burnout. I don’t dislike teaching or my kids, however the stress overshadowed a lot of joy this year. I realized I needed to take some drastic actions to preserve my mental/emotional health, so I did an April no-work challenge. I didn’t know how much I needed some non-teaching hobbies! I spent more time crocheting, playing with my dog, reading, and doing nothing.

Additionally, student behavior tanked. I’m not sure what exactly was going on–there was way more drama, fights, and kids getting referrals than any year I can remember. While I won’t speak to our front-office discipline, I do know that I found classroom management challenging at times. Classroom management is one of my strengths, and overall my kids were great at our routines and following lab procedures. The biggest roadblock in classroom management was the more emotionally draining part of knowing that my kids are dealing with all kinds of home and school issues. There were dozens of moments where I had to help a student calm down or process something before we could get into our science. Even if this was incredibly stressful (and definitely not sustainable), I appreciate that I have the relationship with my students where they know they can be real people.

Finding the positives

As I scroll through my Google Photos, there are so many fun moments this year. It’s a good reminder that despite the stress, I had a great time!

I love my work friends!

More so than any other year, I got way more hugs from my kids! I had a few that regularly hugged me, and others who surprisingly wanted hugs. I’m a hugger, so this makes my teacher heart happy. And, with all the emotional challenges for my kids, I ended many of our conversations with, “would you like a hug?” They almost always said yes! With that, there were also many incredibly genuine “I love you” moments. I am confident that my students left my class knowing they are loved and appreciated for who they are, no matter their identity, the decisions they make, or their circumstances.

Lastly, I wouldn’t survive teaching without my incredible colleagues. My work friends are seriously the best. They’ve hugged me through a lot of challenging moments, and cheered for me when things go well. And, I’ve been able to do the same for them. It seemed like every period someone would drop by my classroom, either to grab something from the printer, informally observe, or grab a Diet Coke from my fridge.

With the informal observations, I started keeping our school’s reflection form on a clipboard, and I’d hand it to someone as they dropped by. I won’t dwell too much on this, but I didn’t have a single walkthrough observation from an administrator this year (with the exception of a 10 minute observation for my formal evaluation); even if I’m a “good teacher” I still have areas where I can improve. I crave feedback, and I’m grateful our school encourages teachers to observe each other! Of course, I returned the favor as I dropped in during my prep period.

5/6 of our science PLC, eating tacos an the beach!

Another set of colleagues I greatly appreciate is our science PLC. They are awesome, supportive, and think critically through all kinds of problems; it has taken a long time to get to this point, and it all comes down to building relationships!

Of course, I couldn’t do any of this without my PLN! I love connecting with you all on Twitter, incredible conversations and support over DMs, and traveling and working with friends from all over the world at summits and custom workshops.

Next steps

Rest. Relax. Recover.

I’m not ready to set goals for next year, and that’s ok. I need to give myself time and permission to take care of me!

Reflections

Reflections on the Teacher Leadership Academy

The blog post below is co-written by many members of the 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy, and cross-posted to Amy I’s blog!

A brief note from Mari: I am grateful to Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth for providing us this experience! For my blog, I have put my own contributions in italics. 


What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)

The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR. We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.

Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate. Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.

We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.

What made teachers want to join?

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)

I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)

Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal. Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)

I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles. My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator. The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)

I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)

Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience

I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)

I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)

I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging. After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities. I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us. I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)

Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership

The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)

I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)

Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)

I appreciated the candid conversations shared that reinforced how each of our journeys are normal because of the challenges we have. The themes explored made me feel more capable in the struggle and gave me tools to gracefully handle situations that may arise. My biggest takeaway though, has been the power to say ‘NO, I do not have the bandwidth for that!’ Realizing that the prosperity of my department does not rest on me; I cannot, nor should I, be the one to keep things afloat. If something is broken, let us shine some light on it and resolve things together!These realizations have shaped the way I interact with my PLC and we are stronger for it! Sincerest gratitude to Amy I. and Amy H., for broaching the tough subjects! (Melody)

Next Steps

I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)

This has been a gift- if there is an opportunity for TLA YR2, I am there!! Whether there is something structured or not, I will continue to develop myself as an individual and as a teacher leader, reach out to those who feel like I have, and to always continue learning, as Amy I. says. Every year gets better! (Melody)

IMG_1390.jpeg
Our 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy cohort!!
Reflections

April 2018 No-Work Challenge

What if I told you that I made it the entire month of April without doing any work-work at home? Would you believe me? That’s right, no lesson planning, no emailing, and no grading at home for an entire month. As crazy as it sounds, it was a necessary leap.

Why I started this challenge

This past year I’ve been working toward a healthier work-life balance. I’ve written a few blog posts about my journey, including: Work Hard, Rest Hard, Work, Work, Work…What About Life (co-written with Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh), and Navigating the Sea of Shoulds. I’m grateful for some excellent friends who have walked with me in this learning experience.

The no-work month challenge started on a whim, as I ended spring break and realized I had enjoyed periods of time without doing work-work or even thinking about teaching. However, I honestly doubted I could do it. I mean, I always have so much to do, and my to-do list never seems to get any shorter.

My guidelines

Very simple: All work-work had to be completed at work. Including grading, lesson planning, and checking email. Oh, and taking attendance.

I spent a lot of afternoons playing with my dog, Ollie.

There were text messages about work to friends, but nothing like serious work. Also, work-related errands (because birthdays, celebrations, science supplies) could be completed outside of work.

Tracking my progress

I kept a Google Doc journal throughout this month. I didn’t write every day, only when I thought of it and had something to say.

I’ve set the permissions to “anyone with the link can comment” and I would love it if you would add in a comment on something that resonated with you, or if you have a question.

What I learned

Aside from my reflections in my challenge journal, there are a few things I learned about myself:

  • Work is like a gas, it fills the container you put it in. If I allow myself to work all day, every day (except Sunday, because that work-limit has stayed strong), then I will have enough work to fill that space. Therefore, if I decrease the size of the container, then work will still fit.
  • Doing this challenge has forced me to put limits on what I say “yes” to. In the past, I have a hard time saying “no” because I can reason I can get things done at night or on the weekend. It just ends up being more stress. Unless I’m getting paid extra duty for these extra projects, I’m carefully considering additional commitments. This is a procedure I’ve had to put in place to safeguard my personal balance. Of course, there are exceptions for exceedingly cool things, such as working in the school garden on a Saturday morning.
  • Never do something you can have a kid do for you. I’ve always lived by this motto, but it really ramped up in the last month. Plus, my students love any opportunity to help. I need something taken to the office or another teacher? Please take this. There’s a lab to be set up? I’d like 2 volunteers who are done with their work to set up materials for tomorrow. Now the lab needs to be cleaned up? I will bribe you with chocolate if you stay for 5 minutes to help clean. Please, and thank you!
  • I have my brain back! I don’t find myself thinking about work every single second of every single day. It’s really refreshing; I’m learning to see myself as a human outside of my teacher identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love my teacher identity, but I felt like I was losing a bit of myself in the process. I’ve reclaimed something for me, and I’m much more relaxed.

Our district’s motto is “Putting Students First.” While it sounds counterproductive, I’m putting my students first by taking care of my own needs so that I can be a better teacher for them.

What’s next? I only have a month of school left, and I plan to continue this habit through the end of the school year. This summer, I will reevaluate my personal limits for next year.

Maybe this exact challenge isn’t for you. How will you ensure you set your own limits on your work-life balance?

Reflections

It Takes a Village to Raise a Student Teacher

“It takes a village to raise a student teacher!”

That became my motto last semester, as I navigated myself through my first time as a Guide Teacher*.

I had such a phenomenal experience as an apprentice teacher (the year before student teaching) and as a student teacher, I always knew I wanted to give back and be a Guide Teacher someday. And that someday happened last August, when my principal walked into my room and asked if I’d like a student teacher.

It’s not easy to invite a stranger into your classroom, share the space, share the kids, and give them room to make mistakes. For me, it was so worth it!

Getting Mentally Prepared

I’ll admit, I was super nervous to host a student teacher. How do you even teach someone to teach?!

A Classroom of One, by Doug Robertson

Thankfully, my good friend Doug Robertson was just finishing up his latest book, A Classroom of One! (Stop what you’re doing, and go buy yourself a copy on Amazon. No matter your experience level & role in education, this book is for you! And, I promise he’s not paying me to say this.) This was a life saver, it gave me a starting place, and some tips for building this teaching partnership.

The first thing I did was go out and buy a pretty notebook for Amy. As Doug advised, I wrote her a letter to start the notebook and our journey together. Letter writing is my jam, so it felt natural. And, I have to admit, I think this really impacted Amy. She talked about the letter multiple times, and even showed it to her mom–a retired Kindergarten teacher! It also helped me welcome her into our classroom, and set the foundation for our work together.

Before the first day, I called my Guide Teacher from when I student taught. Once a mentor, always a mentor! He gave me some great advice and questions to ask Amy on her first day.

The Start of Our Journey

On our first day together, Amy observed my 1st period class and I had her take notes. I introduced Ms. Ellevold to my class and explained she would be hanging out, observing, getting to know them, and helping out–and, I made sure Amy walked around and interacted on that first day!

Amy’s first full block period!

In our first debrief, Amy asked a lot of great questions that made me reflect on my own teaching, the decisions I made, and how I view our class. In turn, I asked her questions about why she wants to be a teacher.

I found my superpower teacher senses also applied to having Amy in my “Classroom of One”. On her 2nd day in my classroom, she met her class (we’re on block schedule). I introduced her, then asked her to do the warm-up. I had given her about 5 minutes notice that she would go over the warm-up with the kids; she looked (and sounded) nervous, but I also knew the sooner she interacted with her class, the quicker the transition from me to her would happen. It was fun to get to write my observations in her notebook. As Doug suggested in Classroom of One, I created 3 columns: likes, suggestions, other.

The kids and many adults are convinced we’re sisters or twins. It took a lot of convincing to explain we didn’t know each other before August! 

We agreed that the next time she saw her class, she would do the warm-up and notes with them, then I would do the final activity. As it turned out, she was on a roll with her class, and they were loving her–so I didn’t stop her, I gave her the “keep going!” eyes, and she taught the whole block period!

She took on more and more responsibilities, including grading, attendance, and discipline. I didn’t have a set timeline for when all this would happen, but instead went by her cues for when she was ready. I also started stepping out for a couple minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time and distance away from our classroom.

As the semester went on, we got into this rhythm of one of us teaching, the other observing, and a big debrief after the lesson. Amy attended our PLC meetings, went with me for supervision, attended trainings, and asked a lot of questions!

By the end of the semester, I left her completely alone for the last 2 weeks. While this is not a requirement for her program, I saw it as her next step in growth. I can’t help myself from giving the “teacher look” to a chatty student or being available to answer a question. She needed to teach without me in the room! So, I parked myself in other classrooms or the library to work, and only popped in if I forgot something essential.

It Takes a Village

During our semester together, I encouraged Amy to observe as many teachers as she could. I made her a list, including the whole science department and multiple math, English, history, and AVID teachers.

Amy (student teacher), me (me), and Derrick (my guide teacher) at a district PD day! 

I also went to observe the other 2 student teachers from her cohort, took detailed notes, and debriefed with them after. This experience helped me realize that each of us have different strengths as a teacher, and also as a guide teacher. I was able to provide a lot of feedback on classroom management and student engagement. (Don’t worry, the other 2 Guide Teachers have excellent management too! I just seem to have a particularly good eye for it, and a knack for teaching it with student teachers. They’re both better at teaching discussion and questioning strategies.)

I also invited the science department, administrators, and other teacher friends to come observe Amy as frequently as possible. They would leave her written or verbal comments at the end. Not only is this healthy for her to have multiple eyes watching her teach, but also it builds comfortability with having people walk in at any point during a lesson.

I Became a Better Teacher!

One of the best part of having a student teacher is having someone constantly observing me teach. There were multiple times the lesson didn’t go as I planned, and I’d turn to Amy mid-lesson and ask for feedback. We’d come up with a plan to change the lesson on the spot or for the next class.

Having a student teacher is a significant time investment. I know some teachers take on a student teacher, then immediately leave the room to get more coffee and chat with a friend. I was constantly observing, and our post-lesson debriefs + planning were often 1-2 hours–thankfully my prep and technology resource period directly followed both the class she observed and the class she taught. Effectively, I lost my prep periods for the first few months. However, this was a time-investment well spent. As I stepped out more and more, I got the opportunity to pop into other classrooms to observe and collaborate!

Amy, me, and Heidi (another student teacher) at the staff v student soccer game

What’s Next?

I will gladly take on another student teacher in the future! Even though I didn’t get one placed with me this semester, there are 2 with other teachers, and I look forward to supporting them however I can.

I’m also planning on recording myself teach more frequently this semester. I won a fancy Swivl at ISTE 2017, which was used a ton last semester to record Amy and another student teacher. I know it takes time investment (and a lot of vulnerability!) to record and watch the video playback, but I know it’s worth it for me.

While writing this post, I can’t stop smiling! Amy, you were a pleasure and a joy to work with! Thank you for an incredible first Guide Teacher experience, and for building so many classroom memories with me. You’ve made me a stronger teacher!

*Note: I use Guide Teacher throughout this post. Some people/programs call them Master Teachers, Cooperating Teachers, etc.

Reflections

#OneWord 2018 – Joy

My word for 2018 is JOY.

Overall in life, I’ve been trying to be better balanced between my personal and professional life, take more time for myself and the people I love, and be more present each day. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and it’s far from over yet.

I picked JOY as my 2018 word because it represents something I’ve found that’s missing from some parts of my day. There are tons of happy moments, smiles, and things I enjoy doing; however, I notice myself frequently just going through the motions.

Joy is an attitude, not a feeling.

I love teaching, I love my kids, I love what I get to do every day. Some days, I find myself trudging along, planning lessons and grading, and trying to get from Monday to Friday–I forget to stop for a moment and enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year allowing others and situations to dictate how I feel. I get frustrated or hurt because of what people have done to me, said about me, or done around me. It’s not up to them to dictate how I feel about situations, or about myself.

I am bringing back my own joy!

One way I’m going to seek out joy each day is by keeping a gratitude journal. Each night, I’ll write down at least one good thing that happened that day in my Passion Planner monthly calendar. This will help me reflect back on all the great things happening, rather than get stuck in the teeny tiny annoyances.

Another way I’m going to bring my joy into my daily life is by making sure I am keeping my life in a better balance. This balance includes work and home, as well as my physical, mental/emotional, and social health. (Yay health triangle, for all my health teacher friends!) I’m going to be intentional about scheduling time for all of these! Part of my personal weekly reflection will look at how I have taken care of all of these areas.

I’m looking forward to whatever 2018 brings, and most of all, keeping an attitude of joy!

Reflections

2017 in Review

2017 has been an okay year. Just okay. Not the 100% fearless year I was hoping for, however I had some phenomenal opportunities to learn and grow thanks to some fantastic friends. One big thing I learned is that being fearless isn’t a heroic feeling, sometimes it feels like the worst thing ever because I’m doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Where I Was (December 2016)

  • I was getting more involved in presenting around California and the rest of the country. It is always fun to travel and meet new people!
  • I was contemplating where I want to be in 5 and 10 years. (Spoiler: I still don’t have an answer…)
  • You can read more about where I was a year ago in my 2016 in Review post.

Where I Am (January – December 2017)

  • In January I transformed the old lab desks in my classroom into whiteboard desks. My students love using their desks to diagram science concepts and provide feedback.
  • I started Virtual Vikings, a monthly BathroomPD newsletter for my school–it has been a huge hit!
  • I got closer to fantastic individuals, Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh. I can confidently say these two push me beyond where I think I can go, and are constantly sources of real and honest conversations. They’ve taught me to dig deep and address how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, and take a step back before making a decision.
  • In March I was awarded CUE’s Emerging Teacher of the Year and in June I was honored with an ISTE Emerging Leader award. Both of these are humbling, especially knowing there are many other deserving individuals. I am grateful that someone took the time to nominate me.

    maricue
    Receiving my 2017 CUE Emerging Teacher of the Year award
  • In July, Fueled by Coffee and Love: Real Stories by Real Teachers was published (buy yourself a copy on Amazon here!). I loved collecting stories from teachers all over the world, and sharing them with you all. (Volume 2 to be published in 2018!)
  • I keynoted my first EdTechTeam summit in November in Redding, CA. This was definitely an opportunity to be fearless. I was nervous, but also felt confident knowing I had fantastic people supporting me along the way.
  • One of my favorite classroom things in 2017 has been my weekly science lessons with our mod/severe special ed class. I adore their teacher, and I love coming in and doing science with her class. Last spring, we did a unit on plants. This fall, we did units on 5 senses, nutrition, and chemical reactions. Next year, we’re looking forward to integrating some of her class into my class for labs and activities!

    each finger has a different texture: hard, soft, squishy, rough, and smooth
    5 senses activity with my favorite mod/severe class
  • This fall, I had my very first student teacher. It was an incredible growth opportunity for both of us–I supported her as she began her teaching journey, and she forced me to be more reflective on why I make certain classroom decisions. We debriefed everything! And, it got me into more friends’ classrooms, not just to say hi, but to observe and learn.
  • Personally, I did a much better job of keeping balance this year! I created rest habits by not working on Sundays and doing less school-related work at home. Meagan, Aubrey, and I came up with our “work rules” to keep us accountable. Being less stressed is definitely a journey, and I’m actually enjoying the ride. In order to rest more, I’ve renewed my love of crocheting; my favorite part is that I can’t play on my phone or computer while crocheting! Double win!
    each fingertip on this hand cutout has a different material for hard, soft, squishy, rough, and smooth

Where I Am Going (2018 and beyond)

  • One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2017 is that I need to be intentional about surrounding myself with people who have my back, are willing to ask me tough questions, and will support me no matter what. In turn, I have had the opportunity to be that friend in return!
  • I look forward to continuing to present and share my love of edtech with all y’all.
    I’ll keep blogging. I wrote about 2x a month in 2017, and I’ll either keep that pace or increase it slightly. Speaking of blogging, I’m moving my blog over to WordPress in early January…stay tuned!
  • I’m looking forward to reading lots more books in 2018. There are a bunch of debut YA novels I already preordered for 2018! (I’m always taking recommendations for any and all books.) I finished 56 books in 2017, including 26 audiobooks and 30 books. I’d like to read at least this much in 2018.
Reflections

Takeaways from my National Board Certified Teacher Journey

My National Board congratulations letter

It is such a huge accomplishment that I can now say I am a National Board Certified Teacher! This has been a challenging journey, and I put in many long hours planning, prepping, compiling, and editing. And, it was worth it!

I first heard about National Board Certification during my credential/masters program, and I liked the idea. I put that aside, started teaching, and forgot about it all. In 2015, I got an email from my district about getting into a National Board lottery to have the district pay for me to go through the program. I was selected, and attended the San Diego County Office of Education support workshop. SDCOE offered both in-person workshops and online support through the two-year process. I was excited to have this support, but was quickly disappointed that it seemed disorganized and overall ineffective.

So, I took matters into my own hands and pushed forward. I spent a significant amount of time studying the components to figure out what they were asking, planning lessons, and completing incredibly detailed reflections.

Here are some of my takeaways from the National Board Certification process:

1. I am a good teacher, even if I second guess myself and my ideas. As I planned out my lessons and skimmed through the reflection questions, I kept doubting my lessons, not feeling like they were innovative or student-driven. On the positive side, it made me really consider and reflect on classroom practices, and push me to design better lessons for my students.

I spent many long hours planning, writing,
and revising. Thankfully Ollie kept me company!

2. The video reflection, Component 3, was one of the more challenging and rewarding sections. Recording myself teaching is something that makes me nervous, although in a productive way. When I video myself teaching, I really have to be “on” all the time, and it makes me clue in to every little thing I do and say. I am much more present and reflective when I have the Swivl set up!

3. I’m grateful I chose to do this over 2 years. It was a lot of work, and while do-able in one year, my sanity thanks me for doing it in 2 years. The first year was Components 1 and 2, and the second year was Components 3 and 4. The component were recently revised, and I was in the first certification year to complete some of the new requirements. Overall, I can say it all four components were relevant to my teaching practices.

4. I wish I had gone through this process with other people I know. It started that there were 2 other people at my school who were going through National Board, but both of them dropped out halfway through. The SDCOE support system was a nice backup; however, for me, it does not replace friends or colleagues that I can bug and bounce around ideas.

5. I’m grateful for this experience. I don’t need a fancy certification to know I am a good teacher, but it’s always rewarding to earn such recognition for the hard work I put into my teaching.

If you’re considering going through the National Board Certification process, let me know!