Ready, Set, Plan…

Flickr credit Violet Monde

Flickr credit Violet Monde

The first day of school will be here in a heartbeat; and while you still need to recharge, it’s a good idea to brainstorm plans for the coming term.

How are you going to make this the best school year ever? What will you do differently? How far do you dare to reach out of your comfort zone?

As with any new year, make resolutions now. Be the light, be the flint that sparks the lamp of knowledge within your students. Consider how you will connect with parents of your charges, because involved parents make a significant impact on student success.

What will you do? Yet whatever you decide, be sure to still pack in some summer fun while you can.

“But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.” Pilgrim at Tinder Creek by Annie Dillard

Seatbelt Time

Buckle in till the end


It is “seatbelt time,” that brief span of two weeks or less when classes still meet, but everyone knows that they are sooooo done with straining over the disciplines of school. When assigning homework brings a roll of the eyes of every student, and teachers are going through the motions while grinding their teeth, you know the jig is up because teachers walk into the teachers’ lounge asking, “Is it June yet?”

Well, it is here. My insight lends me to regroup, change plans, shake it up, and do those things the students have been clamoring to do. Skits, outings, art projects, are a few of my tools. I’d even made a classroom set of Roman numeral Bingo cards, and I think we’ll have some more practice the last few days.

Noticing that a few of my middle school students’ handwriting could be described as atrocious, they will get coached and practice some calligraphy using an italic font and a bulk of pens I’d ordered from Amazon specifically for these seatbelt days.

With May having AP exams, other standardized tests, field trips, field days, and senior ditch days as acceptable distractions from the regimen of learning, it is time to take the foot off the pedal and evolve into a stunt driver of new and alternative curriculum.

Always keep them guessing, and try to preserve their joy in gaining new skills, developing their social-emotional development, and building their confidence to explore a vast ocean of knowledge. Here’s to hoping for summer and the cry of “school’s out!”

The Greatest Power

Green hummingbirdAmid the horrific headlines bringing distress over Syria, continued subjugation of the Palestinians, vituperation and bullying of immigrants and minorities, and environmental and economic dangers, it is time to acknowledge the greatest power in the universe.

Recently returned from Costa Rica, one of my children shared divinely inspired photos and videos of their adventures to the Pacific Ocean, Arenal Volcano, and the cloud forest of Monteverde. Awareness of the vitality in nature struck a contrast to the fragile, artificial urban environment we call home. The disconnect with the greatest power in the universe has led to greed, arrogance, violence, despair, and predatory injustice. Many people are drowning in depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and mind numbing pastimes in order to cope.

As the NFL draft picks are taking place in Chicago, my husband noted the high degree of commercialization and profiteering he has witnessed. It is with apperception that I find parallels with ancient Rome when corrupt aristocrats led the ignorant and impoverished people to be placated with bread and gladiator events, which were meant to quell potential rebellions. We are being “entertained” so as to not rebel against the sources of our distress, and “others” are being cast as scapegoats to account for the common man’s plights.

Such contrasts are apparent. We try to educate to promote critical thinking; yet, our media feeds us predigested sound bytes and program our expressions. Several pop celebrities debase humanity’s morals and seduce us with false confectionary-like goals of fame, fortune, and public affection. The majority of presidential candidates offer us two-faced lies and demonstrate ill manners with aplomb, while we educators try to promote virtues like honesty, mutual respect, fair play, and honor. It is vexing how convoluted society’s values have become since my youth. Yet, with reference to history, I am not optimistic, but I seek refuge from the greatest power in the universe.

This power has given us capacity to decide and act, and I choose to resist by exemplifying virtue, reliance on my own senses, prayer, and diligence to keep aware of corrupting influences for myself and my family. I believe that if we work as a tribe for goodness, regardless of nationality, religion, or other polarizing divisions, we have a chance to live on our own terms as one identity-Humanity.

“The truth has arrived, and falsehood will vanish, for falsehood always vanishes!”               –Al Isra’, (The Night Journey, 17:81).

Life’s a blazing blur

3764133068_fd4f23e736_z Down to the wire, life has been a frenzied, blazing blur all of January, February, and March with teaching middle and high school level classes, writing research papers, designing presentations, planning and completing two education conferences, and having progressive interviews for a principalship in Silicon Valley. The latter which I have just returned from today. Now we wait for the final verdict.

The premeditated strategy to stay ultra busy in hopes of not having time to curse Chicago’s lousy winter weather was a success, and it helped that this El Nino gave us a milder span of confinement. Having the chance to travel and escape it a few times helped too. Yet the stress of being overbooked with commitments resulted in my decision to suspend my participation in some favored volunteer activities for the next year because I realized that there has not been enough time to do some things I’d intended to pursue for nearly three years. With prospects of a relocation and ultra responsible obligation to a school community, I may only have a few months to accomplish those items on my list– but it is all good.

By the way, my 6th grade classes I’d written about in my previous blog are much improved in conduct and we have definitely made some great strides and connections. Being a democratic class community, I found it surprising that students voted to return to the traditional rows versus desk clusters. What they did ask for, and I approved, was that they could relocate themselves to sit by favored classmates. This was with the understanding that I could veto the arrangements if they were unable to focus or became disruptive. I’m greatly enjoying their progress and look forward to the next unit on Ancient Rome. They’ve asked to do skits!

Also pleasing to me is the interest in the school, where I interviewed, to encourage students to pursue some of the more creative and expressive avenues in art, writing, and media. I do believe they are on the right track to recognize these as significant pursuits which can enhance student motivation and ownership of their education. That’s a formula for success.

I am very blessed and grateful with how my efforts and prayers have resulted in rich rewards. Stay tuned for what should be an interesting springtime of emergence.

 

 

New Kid=New Teacher

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Agh! Just starting at a new school at mid-year is rough for students, but it isn’t easy for teachers either. I’m the “new teacher” that just came on board in January for 6th grade Ancient History and high school AP Psychology, and it is as much of a transition for me as it is for my students.

Teachers typically take the first few weeks to get to know their students, establish routines, and set a positive climate. But even experienced teachers know that after winter and spring breaks there is a certain degree of retraining that is needed.

Last weekend, when I flew to Santa Clara for an interview, my students endured one day of a substitute. To my chagrin, the 6th grade did not conduct themselves optimally, and I felt responsible. For if teachers have trained their classes well, the students should be able to follow established protocols even without the regular teacher’s presence. Of course, with less than one month, mine were evidently not well settled, so I took measures to modify my protocols.

The previous instructor used daily bellwork that featured map handouts each week, and she used her computer desktop to project questions relevant to those maps prior to the day’s lesson. I found that procedure conflicting with also using the desktop to report attendance at the start of each class. In addition, I really like to use short video clips to illustrate geographic places and concepts.

It occurred to me that this fit nicely into what Fred Jones, author of Tools For Teaching described as Preferred Activity Time (PAT), whereby students are rewarded if they behave and perform responsibly.

I communicated my displeasure with the conduct during my absence, and stated that we would concentrate on note taking skills each day. Students would be allowed and rewarded if they put effort forth to take good notes, as they could be used on formative assessments and specifically quizzes. On days which were productive, we would enjoy geography “bellwork” and a relevant video at the end of class. This week we saw a clip on the locks of the Panama Canal, some facts about Mexico, and a modern housing subdivision in Managua, Nicaragua.

Now students come in, ready their notebooks and texts while I complete attendance. I have learned their names, established cooperative groups via a seating chart, have numerous writing samples which indicate several areas I have targeted for remediation, and I am feeling pretty good that we are going to progress happily through till June.

As for Santa Clara, I’m going to enjoy this SuperBowl regardless of which team wins because it was my good fortune to have my hotel room view directly upon Levi’s Stadium as preparations were underway. The area is lovely and I truly enjoyed meeting people at their local school.

In fact, everything is win-win, and attitude, autonomy, and ambition are guiding my game lately. Enjoy!

5 Tips for a Better Year

 

Holiday breaks can foster fertile ideas and hopefully you have made solid plans for your entrepreneurial intentions. Yet, even if you are not an entrepreneur per se, you may have had ideas of ways you wish to improve your life. With that, allow me to share some tips with you, as I’ve had some fun conning myself at times to do the nasty but necessary tasks that I’ve preferred to defer, but just knew that I had to do.

I think it was Brian Tracy that coined the term “Eat That Frog” as a title for one of his books. This zany phrase was extrapolated from Mark Twain who described that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, then that is probably the worst thing that will happen all day. The gist of it is that with the myriad of distractions in our lives, be sure to knock off the most vital thing you can prioritize in order to gain traction; eat that frog.

For me yesterday, I updated and renewed a FAFSA application with my child who is in college. Everything else-albeit more pleasurable-took second place to “eating that frog.” Today it is writing lesson plans, for I am returning to the classroom for some part time social studies at middle school and high school levels. This will give me the pleasure of satisfying my “kid fix” while funding my other entrepreneurial tools that I want to explore. The only downside is that I’ll have to join the early riser club again, but it is probably for the best.

Every day, I have a huge amount of useless emails that I typically don’t even open after scanning the subject line because I do not find them relevant to my needs. Consequently, they pile up and I periodically unsubscribe or at least bulk delete several times each year. The reason I acquire so much email is that I find many free resources that give benefits, but at a certain point it becomes clear that subsequent offerings don’t interest me, are not coming at an opportune time, or cost more than I am willing to invest. Purge unnecessary emails. Ditto; for smartphone apps that free up more memory.

The tips on decluttering from Marie Kondo still give me “spark joy,” but it is deep winter now and I have no need for chiffon blouses, Boho skirts, and lightweight workout apparel. In fact, I’m recovering from a Baker’s Cyst (getting drained and having a Cortisone shot was like eating a frog!) that put brakes on my typically athletic lifestyle, so until I mend it seems joyful to thin out warm weather clothes from closets and drawers, except for what I will wear to present at the West Coast Education Forum in Newport Beach in mid-January.

Lastly, with high expectations for a productive year, it makes sense to calendarize, in order of priorities, all the work, personal projects and dates you intend to pursue. This includes writing and marketing campaigns, content creation, social dates, and vacations. For me, if I put it on my calendar, it is going to be done-even if it’s within a few days of my posting-so fill 2016 with a seriously accountable calendar of things that matter to you!

Hope you have the best, healthiest, happy and prosperous year ever.

Love. Peace. Patience.

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Love, Peace, Patience
Humans are precious elements of creation and each is sacred. Yet, in our forgetfulness we become corrupt, no longer pure as the day we were born. We must strive to regain the purity, no sin, no stain, no imperfection, and we ask forgiveness to once again be given the clean slate we had been gifted with at the start of this earthbound life.

Inherent to this we check our motives, actions, priorities, earnings, and choices. We pray to be guided rightly and to live mindful of the best character traits of the prophets and ancestors we have loved.

Love. Peace. Patience. With fortitude we use these anchors-exemplified by the best of humanity-a reminder to guide us through the storms.