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.
Classroom Strategies

Seeking Feedback from Students

Every year, I ask my students for informal and formal feedback on what they like about our class or a specific activity. Sometimes this is as simple as a warm-up question (read about my daily check-ins here!) or an exit ticket, and other times it’s a more involved survey with Google Forms.

My two years of teaching, I didn’t survey my students until the last week of school. I quickly realized that was silly because it didn’t benefit my current students, only the future students. The next year, I did a fall and spring course evaluation survey. In the next few years, I’d occasionally throw in a mid-semester survey too.

In addition to these surveys, I also have my students complete a reflection in their Interactive Notebook, and I include a question on their favorite and least favorite activity from that unit.

This semester, I decided to formally survey students at every grading period: two progress reports and at the end of the semester. The day after each major lab or activity, I included a question for feedback (Example: Did you like the ______ lab? Why or why not?) in their daily warm-up questions.

Additionally, I took on a student teacher at the end of August. She was willing and excited to be included in the Progress Report #2 and Final Course Evaluation surveys too. For these, we used “go to section based on response” so her class evaluated her in one section, and my classes evaluated me in a different section.

Progress Report #1 Survey
On the first Progress Report, I asked students to assign themselves a grade based on how many Mastery Tasks they’ve mastered (blog post later about my adventures with mastery-based grading). I quickly learned that I needed to explicitly teach them how to reflect, how to provide feedback, and how to support a claim with evidence (+1 for science skills!). Progress Report #1 (make a copy)

Progress Report #2 Survey
With the next progress report, I did a slightly better job scaffolding this reflective process for my students. I still had students who didn’t quite grasp how to support their claim (grade) with evidence (number of Mastery Tasks mastered). In both progress report surveys, students confused their justification with their satisfaction on their grade. Nonetheless, I found their insight valuable in how I communicate information with students. One of the questions is “Do you know how to see comments on Google Docs & Google Slides on your iPad?” because in the first 12 weeks of school, I was surprised that many students did not know how to view comments I left on both Docs/Slides and Google Classroom.
Progress Report #2 (make a copy)

Final Course Evaluation

Overall, students feel supported as learners, valued for their ideas, respected as an individual, encouraged to do their best, and safe to be themselves.
Student feedback on Fall 2017 Course Evaluation. I learned I need to dig
deeper to do a better job valuing students’ ideas and providing them
a safe space to be themselves.

On the final course evaluation, I used this less of a grade reflection and more as an evaluation of the whole class. On this one, I gave students the option to be anonymous. With this evaluation, I asked students to give feedback on what they like and don’t like in our class, changes we can make, and how I support them in our class. I take this feedback very seriously, and I will compile and share the overall trends with my students at the beginning of second semester. Additionally, I asked students for their feedback on Mastery-Based grading. The majority said they like it; those that said they didn’t like it at all talked about their unhappiness with their own grade on the “What improvements can we make to Mastery-Based Grading?” question.
Final Course Evaluation (make a copy)

I really appreciate that my students are willing to tell me what they like and don’t like about our class. My classroom must reflect their needs and wants–sometimes it’s hard to put my expert ego aside, but I value their ideas and I know how to separate rude feedback (very rare! And, none so far this year) from constructive criticism.

I look forward to continuing these frequent reflections next semester!

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!

Reflections

Work, Work, Work…What About Life?

This post is cross-posted on Mari, Meagan, & Aubrey’s blogs.


Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.



Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding – this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all.” Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.


Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.


In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.


Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts – you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.


Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge – for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy…but it is worth it!


Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance.  Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing!  I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life.  As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset.  Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc).  I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home.  Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever.  I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education.  I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals.  I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?
 
Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!
 


We are on a journey together – far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.

 

What steps are you taking to balance work and life?
Reflections

Navigating the Sea of Shoulds

Welcome to our adventure. Please keep your hands, feet, and shoulds inside the bus at all times.
Should is a word that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Every time I hear, think, or say this word, I cringe. I’m trying to change my mindset, by first changing my vocabulary.
I don’t run a makerspace. I don’t fully integrate robotics and coding into my science curriculum. I haven’t tried flexible seating in my classroom. I don’t have Flipgrid Fever. I’m not certified in every app, tool, and program out there.
Some of y’all are thinking, “oh my gosh Mari, you really should try __________.”
Should. Should. Should.
I know I am a great teacher. I build great relationships with my students, I design engaging lessons, I empower my students to be curious learners, and we have lots of fun in our class. I try new things and take risks, and I am transparent with my students on my successes and shortcomings. I want to be the best version of me.
One of my favorite authors and experts on the topic of shame and vulnerability is Brené Brown. She has published some phenomenal books (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), and more), as well as done some incredible TED Talks. I highly recommend them, especially Listening to shame (TED Talk).
My favorite takeaway from Brené Brown is when she differentiates between shame and guilt, “Shame is, ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’” I feel guilty when I forget to submit my attendance. I feel shame when I’m not doing all the things in my classroom and with my students. After reading her books and watching her TED talks, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling with attaching self-worth to what we do and don’t do.
When I get excited about a new tech tool or idea, I immediately sail out onto the Sea of Shoulds with the Shame Sharks ominously circling my boat. I’m 100% sure I’ve sent subliminal shame messages to friends and colleagues as I’m trying to get them to use this “Awesome New Tool” that they just can’t live without. When I say, “You should try this!” it becomes less about the tool, and more about their shortcomings as a teacher.
When I start attaching “shoulds” to my suggestions, I am also unintentionally adding shame to the conversation. Me telling you, “you should try this!” inherently attaches shame–the hidden message here is “You’re not doing enough. When you try _____, you’ll have more value in this edu-world.” I apologize, and hope you’ll give me another opportunity to share…in a different way.
I am working hard to reshape my language and approach. Rather than telling people what they should do, I am taking time to hear their needs and ask how I can support their needs. When I am beyond excited for the “Super Awesome Thing,” I’m shifting my language to “I just learned about the Super Awesome Thing, I’d love to share with you how it’s impacting students in my classroom.”
Thank you all for being on this journey with me!
Reflections

Work Hard, Rest Hard

As I am getting more and more involved in the edtech world, working on education related projects, and presenting at conferences, I’ve found myself really failing at the work/life balance. I can’t be the only one struggling here, right?

On weekdays, I get up, go to work, come home from work, make dinner (usually while working), then work some more. Not all of this is lesson planning and grading–much of the work I do when not at work is via social media, working on projects, or preparing for conferences. It’s still work. On weekends, I wake up, work on something on and off all day, taking breaks for naps or to run errands. Even when I’m not directly working, I find myself thinking about work. Throughout teaching, the one positive limit I’ve had for myself is no work email on my phone.

I’ve found myself stressed and easily overwhelmed with the amount of things I think I need to get done. And struggling to differentiate between things that need to get done, and things I want to get done. I know I’m not giving my best self to myself, my boyfriend, our dog, and my family/friends.

Simply unplugging doesn’t always work for me because I feel guilty for not working, and be constantly thinking about what I should be doing. (Sidenote: Should is my danger word. I’m frequently wrapped up in the shoulds and should nots, rather than what’s best for me.)

I needed to make a change. ASAP.

I made the decision to gift myself Sundays.

I set guidelines for what can and cannot be done on Sundays.  I’ve decided that working on projects or work-work is off limits, including work email. I can chat with friends on Twitter, do chores around the house (even if my brain tries to talk me out of it because it’s my rest day!), hang out with friends, or do absolutely nothing.

A typical Sunday might include waking up slowly (sleeping in until 7am!), playing with the dog or going on a longer walk, going to church, grocery shopping, taking a nap, reading, catching up on MasterChef and Food Network shows on the DVR, crocheting, watching baseball without multitasking on work, doing laundry, and making a more involved dinner. I enjoy doing everything on this list (except for putting away the laundry)!

Even throughout the long and difficult process completing my National Board Certification (NBCT) this spring, and coordinating my book project Fueled by Coffee and Love, I didn’t do any work on Sundays. I found myself more focused on Saturdays and at work, knowing I couldn’t do last minute things on Sunday.

My one exception to this “no work on Sundays” rule has been conferences. However, when I’m at a weekend conference (usually an EdTechTeam summit) I’m having so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work!

This change has been absolutely magical! Because I know that all of Sunday is off-limits for work, I don’t feel guilty for relaxing. I’ve found myself less stressed, and more present in both work and rest. Additionally, I’ve found it easier to limit my work on weekday evenings.

This is what works for me. It may or may not work for you, and that’s okay. Maybe you pick a different time period, or your “rest rules” are different. There is no judgement in how you choose to rest and rejuvenate yourself.

It’s less about the amount of time, and more about the practice of it.

What do your rest habits look like?