This post has been a long time coming. It’s taken me two months to sit down and finish it. In fact, I’ve hardly blogged or tweeted at all in the last two months. There have been so many changes in my life, most of which have been positive.
In the last two months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting. I’ve known my 2019 word since December, though I’ve only shared it privately with a few friends. I’m now ready to share it with the rest of my friends:
My word for 2019 is RECLAIM.
As I shared in my 2018 in Review post, I ended a 10 year relationship last fall. While picking up the pieces hasn’t been terribly difficult, I’ve realized how much I need to reclaim myself as a human and as an adult. I’m feeling very positive about the new direction of my life, even through the tougher moments.
On top of it all, we lost our resource positions due to district budget cuts, so I gained another class, plus a 6th class to cover for someone on leave–that’s 6 classes and 3 preps (4 science, 1 science elective, 1 AVID). Included in all of this is my 0 period, so my school day is 7:19 – 3:15, pretty much nonstop. I have a “prep” period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that’s the 7th class period. It’s exhausting. I love my kids so much, and they’re worth it.
Oh, and I turned 30 in February!
So, I’ve taken a step back and spent time focusing on myself. I’ve enjoyed making lots of plans with friends, taking a solo trip to NYC, and spending time with my doggie.
Part of reclaiming for me is learning who I am. There have been a lot of opportunities to explore what I truly like and how I fit into this world. I’ve spent time thinking about both my short-term and long-term goals, while not allowing the future to create unneeded anxiety. It’s much easier said than done!
I’m grateful for so many phenomenal friends who have stood with me on this journey. Throughout the past few months, I’ve had so many insightful conversations with friends that have challenged me to think deeper and step out of my comfort zone. Thank you all!
Additionally, I’ve been reclaiming my physical space, which has taken a lot of time and energy. I’m in the process of re-doing my 3rd bedroom, which I’m turning into my office with an awesome navy blue gallery wall (I’ll post pics when it’s all done). I bought new bedroom furniture and lamps, which instantly made me feel calm and happy. It’s amazing how much making some updates and changes to my physical space has made me feel like a new person.
So, here’s to new possibilities and new opportunities as I reclaim in 2019!
I’ve been putting off writing this post for the past week. I usually love writing these reflective blogs (past year’s posts: 2017, 2016, 2015), but this year, not so much. Out loud, I’m blaming the busyness of ending school on December 21st, then immediately diving into all the holiday crazy. However, internally I’ve been finding plenty of other things to do instead because I want 2018 to be a thing of the past and I don’t want to dig back into the less great things of 2018. It’s necessary to reflect and learn, so, here goes!
Where I was (December 2017)
A year ago, I was very intentionally navigating the never ending challenge of work-life balance. It wasn’t easy, and thankfully I have amazing friends around me who constantly check in.
Professionally, I was coming off of a fulfilling year. And personally, I was having a bit more of a rough time. But, I was hopeful things would get better (spoiler: they didn’t get any better until the very end of 2018).
Where I am (January – December 2018)
I was so fortunate to participate in our district’s Teacher Leadership Academy, led by the amazing Amy duo, Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth! I learned a lot about being an effective teacher-leader, working with Difficult People, and how to say “I’m not going to take that on.”
I had the opportunity to share my love of teaching and technology all over the US at various summits and professional development opportunities. Some highlights include Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, Chicago, and Greenville, SC.
“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I did a full re-read of the Harry Potter series in November and December, and I loved immersing myself in the magic again. It was so helpful to escape reality and the stress of life. I had to make a big choice this fall, and ultimately decided to end a 10 year relationship; though there are moments of sadness, overwhelmingly I feel happier and healthier. Along the way this year, I’ve had so many friends encouraging me and sitting down to have heart-to-heart chats about relationships and life. Thank you, friends.
I ended 2018 at a freezing cold New Year’s Eve party, surrounded by friends! I couldn’t ask for more (except maybe a heated blanket).
Where I’m going (January 2019 and beyond!)
New year, new me, right? For once, it really feels that way. After the stress of 2018, it’s as if a huge burden has been lifted. I’m ready for new opportunities and adventures! In the fall, someone asked me what 1 year in the future Mari would want for current Mari; that helped me put a lot of my life into perspective, and helped me make both hard and fun decisions.
In February, I turn 30, a gigantic adulting milestone. As my gift to myself, I planned a fun trip to New York City! I’ve never been, and it’s time I do something awesome just for myself.
As I planned out this post, I scrolled through my entire year on Google Photos. It’s fun to reflect back on the fun adventures I’ve had, and remind myself that, despite some setbacks and dark clouds in 2018, overwhelmingly it was filled with incredible friends. I’m really looking forward to 2019!
I can’t believe it’s already back to school! I’m starting my 7th year teaching–it’s really amazing to look back at how far I’ve come over the past 6 years of teaching + 2 years of pre-service teaching! Thank you Teacher2Teacher for this awesome #TeacherStats graphic! Make your own here!
My kids start on Monday, July 23rd, and I think I’m just about ready. We’re on a sorta year-round schedule, with a 6 week summer and longer breaks. I really do love it, even if it’s hard to go back when everyone else is still enjoying their summer.
The 2017-2018 school year was stressful for a number of reasons, and I am hoping to really focus on balance this school year. I need to do a better job taking care of myself, managing all the things that stress me out, but are not in my control, and not working nearly as much.
The following are my goals for each area of my responsibility. If you have expertise in any of these areas, I’d love to know and learn from you!
With my science kids, I have two different areas I’m working on. First, as I continue to improve with mastery-based grading, one big thing I’d like to work on is helping my students to be more self-reflective and self-evaluative. Part of that will be teaching them how to provide effective feedback to their peers and themselves, then use that feedback to improve their work.
Second, I’m going to continue to transition my class social media over to my students. I’ve had them post regularly in the past, and I’d love to make it a class job, where we are regularly sharing what we are learning!
I love teaching AVID, and my 0 period AVID 8 kids are a special bunch. I had many of them in 7th grade science or knew them from popping into their AVID 7 classes, and I always look forward to continuing to build these relationships for a second year.
AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and my focus this year is to guide my students in the “individual determination” piece by making the class portfolio-based, and potentially eliminating grades. I’d love to help my students find their own intrinsic motivation, and build their own external accountability, if they feel they need it. At the grading periods, students will self-assess and assign themselves a grade. This will prepare them for both college and adult life, where they are responsible for their own educational path. I have no idea how this will turn out, and I’m a little nervous, but isn’t that how we truly learn?
Blended Learning Specialist
As my school’s Blended Learning Specialist, I have 1 class period dedicated to technology resource and integration. Last year, we became the first Common Sense Media Certified School in our district, and I my goal is to double the amount of lessons taught, and provide a good foundation for our student, not only in digital citizenship, but also in effective searching and internet safety.
Furthermore, my goal is to encourage our teachers to share out the great things they’re doing on Twitter, using #VikingsLearn, our school hashtag. As of now, we have 22 teachers and admin on Twitter, and I’d love to get that number up to 30. I’d added a “Twitter Challenge” section to our monthly Virtual Vikings #PottyPD newsletter with specific things to share, such as “try a new tech tool” or “show off how you engage your students in reading.”
Teaching, in General
One thing I love doing is observing my colleagues! I’m in their rooms quite often, admittedly to say hi, see what’s up, or sometimes goof around (when appropriate, of course…we have SO much fun!). I want to spend more time intentionally observing, leaving feedback, and asking questions to make us all better teachers. We have a paper peer observation template; I don’t mind that it’s analog, it’s easy to grab my clipboard, then snap a picture of my observation before leaving the paper with the teacher. Plus, I can tweet out a shoutout when I visit.
I’m also hoping for more observations this year. When my colleagues walk in, I love handing them my clipboard and asking for feedback. This year, I’m going to add a sticky note or half-sheet of paper with my current goals for them to focus on.
Who wants to come observe? I’d love to have you!
Very limited work at home. I know no-work may not be possible, but I’m hoping that’s the case 93% of the time (meaning, once every two weeks or less!). I learned how to leave work at work through my “April No-Work Challenge,” and I expect to keep up these habits.
Please keep me accountable and check in with me over the next weeks and months. You have full permission to ask me how these goals are going, nudge me to share evidence of growth, and guide me in a positive direction! Thank you PLN, I love being on this adventure with you all!
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.”
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!
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.
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.
It’s crazy to think I took the Google for Education Level 1 and Level 2 tests in summer 2015. 3 years ago! These tests had just been re-released after a complete overhaul; I intended to take them in late 2014, but they were taken down to get their makeover. Since they expire every 3 years, so retaking them was on my summer to do list.
I ended up taking Level 1 again in February 2017, after hosting an EdTechTeam Level 1 bootcamp at my school. A bunch of my friends were meeting to take the test, so I joined in and took it under my school email. Yes, we took it in the corner at a bar (arranged with the manager ahead of time, especially to make sure wifi was stable.)! And yes, we brought our own power strips. And yes, it was a lot of fun!
Going into the tests this summer, this biggest difference for me was confidence. Since taking Level 1 & and Level 2, I’ve gone on to become a Google for Education Certified Trainer (November 2015) and Innovator (June 2016, #COL16!!). I also facilitate bootcamps for EdTechTeam. Sure, I was a little nervous, because after all, it is a test! However, I also have lots of experience to draw on, which I used to remind myself it would all be ok! This time around it took me about 55 minutes for Level 1, and 75 minutes for Level 2. It took much less time because I knew what to expect and didn’t second-guess myself, not because my skills are that much better.
My advice for taking Level 1 and Level 2
Prepare with other people: I highly recommend the EdTechTeam bootcamps. Either attend one in your area, or fill this out to bring one to your school/district (you can even request me to come to you!). I wish I had this opportunity when I was preparing the first time to get a feel for the test, receive helpful advice, and build my confidence. — And no, I’m not getting paid to say this.
Find a happy place to take the test: I’ve taken the test solo at home in a quiet room and at a loud bar. Both times, I had minimal outside distractions. Yes, the bar was loud, but it was just background noise, not someone talking directly to me. Phone went on “do not disturb” and I closed all the other tabs.
Set up your space: Get something to drink, have a snack handy, use the bathroom before you begin, connect to power, stretch, etc before you sit down to take the test. Your webcam is on the entire time for security, so you don’t want
to have to run to get something in the middle of the test.
Take wiggle breaks: I stand up every 30 minutes or so to wiggle around. I angle my laptop to keep my face in view, because test security. A mini dance party keeps my brain from getting too tired.
Smile!: Remind yourself to smile before, during, and after the test. You’re a hard worker, and these test are kinda fun! No matter what, pass or fail, remember to smile!
If you don’t pass the first time, don’t get discouraged! Make a note of the topics or tools that gave you the most difficulty, find a buddy, and work on them. Challenge yourself to use that tool at least 3 times before retaking the test.
Have tips for Level 1 and Level 2 first-timers? Leave a comment with your best advice!
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!
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.
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.
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!