Making Time for Family in the Digital Age

Last week I had the honor and pleasure of hosting a webinar for a parent communication platform, ParentSquare Learning Network, regarding making time for family in the digital age. We talked and collaborated as educators and parents on what that looks and feels like. In preparation for this webinar, I definitely had to self-reflect on my own practices as an educator and mother of five. My reflections and discussions led me to this conviction: we need to know how to use tech in our homes and classrooms in a way that bridges us with the people in front of us and that wisdom is often learned after making mistakes.

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As parents and educators, we can talk until we are blue in the face about what our students and kids should be doing. We can give them all the right answers and they may believe that we are the most knowledgeable people on this planet. But my own experience has shown that what we say matters less than what we do. At home, when I read, my kids want to read. When I watch TV, my kids play near me even though we have a dedicated space for a playroom. When I’m on my phone, they fight about who can be on the iPad or laptop. My kids want to be near me and do what I do! So teaching our kids by our own examples is the really the most effective way to show our values and priorities. The question is, do our words and actions align? I can honestly say that in our home, as of late, we have depended on too much technology to fill in time, so going into the winter break, we are going to actively do better about being present with one another.

There are ways to combat the use of too much technology. I put my phone in another room, up the stairs, when I need or want to be fully present with my family. Other things we discussed in the webinar are setting a timer, making sure our kids are under supervision, and setting a rule of no devices at the table. While our kids are spending more time with family during the winter break, it’s easy to let them have their iPads and play for longer periods of time. However, like my friend and mentor Mandy Froehlich shared with me, every minute we spend online is a minute we are trading for other things, such as spending time with our kids. A timer would be a great way to illustrate the quantity of time we spend on our devices. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to cut back!

Things we can do without needing our devices:

Baking,

Writing/illustrating stories,

Exploring nature,

Reading alone or together,

Praying, meditating, reading about our faith,

Creating meaningful experiences in our community,

and HAVING CONVERSATIONS!

I mentioned in the webinar that having conversations with our kids is free but is so costly if we don’t have them. We learn what our kids need from us when we regularly converse with them. We can get out of practice when we spend too much time on our devices, but the good news is we can make sure to get back to what is important. There is a message that has stayed with me for years: if we don’t stop and listen to the little things our kids are trying to tell us now, then don’t expect them to trust us with the important things later. When we spend time in conversation, even when it’s silly, we are actively learning about our children (or students) as they are revealing their personalities and values to us. Have you ever looked at your child and thought, “I don’t really know you very well anymore.” Honestly, many of us have had this thought, and when we want to know our children more deeply, we need to remember to make sure they know and feel like we are present and listening to them.

Using an app to capture some fun moments with my family!

As an educator, building community was my overreaching goal for the entire year. Welcoming parents and families was part of the success I had in forming deep connections with my students. Communication is key. Sharing our classroom experiences through our digital parent communication platform was a way I bridged what we were doing in class to home. It was also how parents helped me bridge home to school. I hoped using a communication platform and sharing with parents would stimulate conversation and encourage participation in school and class wide activities. However, digital tools can only go so far. I also had to make time for face-to-face and phone conferences. Digital resources can easily lose context so some messages should never be shared in any form except face-to-face or by phone.

The best way to ensure quality time in this digital age is to find a good balance. We can draw from our own past experiences as we remember that our parents did not record every single moment of every single event. At family gatherings, we’d take time to get everyone in pictures, but we spent more time talking and playing. Our culture feels the need to record and share everything, but when we are honest, we know that we lose out on being present when we are always looking for the perfect shot or recording instead of participating.

Using technology is not evil. Using our devices to write emails, find new recipes, and share important life events is also part of our culture and there isn’t anything wrong with these things. It’s always the extremes that kill our ability to be present. My own personal reflection on spending too much time on my device is often when I’m feeling overwhelmed in daily responsibilities or feeling disconnected from community. Have you ever thought about what may lead you or your children to spend mindless hours online? Having this information and reflection is a great way to start combating the timesuck of being online.

Each ornament is symbolic for a family member. The red door for 2019 was my husband’s for opening a new door of dreams & possibilities!

Finally, this holiday season, my family is starting from scratch in establishing new traditions. If you have followed my #onemonthgoals journey, this month I chose to share the Christmas Spirit all month long instead of doing one huge thing on Christmas morning. I knew if we really focused on spending quality time together this month, Christmas morning wouldn’t feel like a one and done thing. We are getting to know our new home better, learning the traditions of our new community, and really learning each other which was the most important reason for choosing to move to Alaska. Things we’ve already done together are having a book-unwrapping day and spending time just reading. Hot cocoa and cookie nights, holiday movies, gingerbread house making, and we’ll be participating in the winter solstice celebration this weekend. Last weekend, my husband and I picked out an ornament for each child and each other. We gave it to them with their new stockings. One by one we had each child open their new items and explained why each ornament was symbolic of them. We don’t have but a few ornaments on our tree, but the ones we have are meaningful.

Thank you so much for reading this! I hope you will share some traditions and ways you have quality time with your family. These are great conversations to have this season and may help us be more present as we welcome in 2020.

The Power of Connection

Today there was a lot of reflection about my work in the classroom. I feel so blessed to still remain friends with students I taught over a decade ago, and even my first graders from last year. They are wonderful people and so are their parents. When I get a SnapChat video from Ethan or when a grandparent just thinks of reaching out because her grandson misses me, I feel like I’ve contributed something worthwhile in this world.

Received this from a grandparent and it rocked my world in a good way!

When we moved to Alaska, I didn’t think there would be much for me to offer as I decided to home school this year to reconnect with my own family. But I never stopped connecting with other educators (home and public) and that has brought on tremendous opportunities! From becoming the Logistics Manager for EduMatch Publishing to helping form a “Moms For Math” club with the public school here in Anchorage that we partner with for homeschool. The connections are what drive me! The connections lead to amazing opportunities! My first children’s story will be launched next month and it’s because of connections I made with my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter!

There are those who work and have careers and don’t experience the connections like those of us in the school system. Working alone without a lot of contact with others is definitely not for me. Getting to know others, learning about their lives, being in awe of the differences they experience is what drives me. Because of those powerful conversations, I have learned to be open-minded and that has helped me to let go of a judgmental attitude. Caring about others’ input has helped me listen to understand which in turn has grown deep relationships. For those who know me, accept me, and love me, I pray I harness that power to help others understand how that feels to have in life.

One thing growing deeper in my faith has taught me is that real love, the love like Jesus has for us, is a love without agenda. That is the basis for all deep connections. It’s not about “What can you do for me?” It’s about getting to know those whose path cross with ours and offering support. Sometimes support is just not judging someone. Sometimes the support is listening to a need and finding a way to fulfill it because it’s in your power to do so. Many times it’s offering friendship.

People of God speak to people; people who don’t look like them, people who might not smell good, people who have different ethnicities, people who don’t love like them, people (period).

Winfred Burns II

Supporting others is a way to deepen connections. They cycle of support, and it has to be genuine support, will pull you up along the way. More connections, more opportunities, more support, more connections…it’s a wonderful cycle. But the thing is, people can see when you are using them or when you are sincere. Sincerity breeds deeper connections. Name-dropping brings immediate results without the connection. People can see through it, and no one likes feeling used.

Wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you can see the connections in your life that have helped you get where you are right now. And if you feel a lack of connection, please reach out to those who have been knocking on that door. Allow them in. It’s powerful, Friend.

Former 5th grade students who came back on last day of school!

Positive, Self-Talk Can Transform Our Lives: And We ARE Worth It!

Isn’t it so crazy that we can find grace for others, and yet, talk so maliciously to ourselves when we’ve messed up? We may know that making mistakes is part of the learning process, but what is the first thing we say to ourselves when we make one? If you are like me, it might be “Ugh, I’m so stupid!”  Lately, I’ve been more attuned to this and I’m trying to change the way I think and talk about myself.  

A huge reason I am more aware of my self-talk is because I’ve learned that when I cheer myself on at the gym, I can go farther and burn more calories.  I push myself and meet goals. This is no small thing as just the thought of going to the gym used to bring up only fear and self-doubt. One day when I was jogging (after committing to a monthly goal of going to my local gym) on the treadmill, I started telling myself that I was proud of getting over my fear, that I was proud that I was making a real, life change, and I was proud of myself for deciding to put in the work.  That was the first day exercise felt enjoyable, and it kept me going back. Deciding to be kind to myself has also helped me to love myself for exactly who I am in this moment. There was an epiphany that if I couldn’t love myself as a plus-size woman that even if I ever reached a goal of being a smaller size, I wouldn’t know how to love myself and I’d never be satisfied with how I looked or felt.  

Another reason for positive, self-talk is the message I’m sending and teaching my kids.  They are soaking up everything I do and say. When I hear them say they are stupid, after getting something wrong, I know exactly where they learned that.  Teaching them to appreciate the mistakes they make along the journey is one thing, but when they see me being a hypocrite, they pick up on that more than anything I’ve said.  It was easier teaching others’ children to have positive, self-talk because my students didn’t see me like my own kids do. As their mother, it hurts me when my kids say ugly things to themselves.  When I look at each of them, I see beautiful beings with so much potential. I want them to see that too, so it’s time to make a change. And…it’s working. Last week, my son described why he was proud of himself.  He used the word proud and asked me if I understood that he wasn’t bragging, but he felt good for his accomplishment. I told him I knew exactly what he meant and I was proud of him, too.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned this to a friend and she invited me to a group she created on Facebook that is about being kind to ourselves.  Not only have I made new friends and have a support system, but I’m learning so much from them. We discuss healthy boundaries, things we are grateful for, and celebrate our growth.  When we are finding it hard to be kind to ourselves, we reach out and are lifted up. It’s absolutely amazing and has helped me tremendously in my self-care journey.  

Why do we find it so hard to love ourselves? Why do we go overboard to help others and put ourselves last?  Why can we see beauty in others and not ourselves? If you ever ask yourself any of these questions, I encourage you to look in the mirror and try and see what others see. Stop zeroing in on your acne.  Stop looking at your stretch-marks or any curves you find disgusting. In fact, remove some of those ugly words like disgusting, right now. I knew something amazing was happening inside when I first saw myself as beautiful and told my reflection so.  I saw a woman who birthed five, wonderful humans. Those stretch-marks are beautiful in their meaning. I don’t want a flat belly. I’ll work for a healthier body, but I don’t want to erase who I am to reach some image of beauty that was never meant for me.  

Our paths look differently.  It’s not always about body shape or physical health, but many times, taking care of ourselves is offering ourselves the olive branch we naturally extend to others.  We’ve done some stupid things, made errors in judgement, and if you are like me there is a list of things you truly would go back and do over with the knowledge you have now (but thank goodness we can’t).  One way to show love to ourselves is to talk kindly to that person in the mirror. Speaking ugly about her doesn’t encourage her to reach for anything but instead find another way to avoid taking care of herself. But finding one thing to love about her will definitely fuel your desire to find another good thing and another…until your inner dialogue has been transformed.  

You’re worth the kindness.  You are worth the love. You may even find that your love for others grows more deeply and that when you stop judging yourself so harshly, it’s even more natural to accept others, too.  It’s a pretty awesome cycle, don’t you think? It’s free, but it’s costly if we never make that decision. The way we show kindness to ourselves can help our mental, physical, and spiritual states.  The opposite is also true and can exacerbate illness and stress levels.  

You are worth the self-kindness, my friend.  And honestly, your whole self is ready for this change, too. Best wishes in learning to love yourself and it starts with how you talk to yourself. 

Life After Loss: What Miscarriage Has Shown Me

That morning I woke up and took a pregnancy test. Positive. I could feel my heart pounding in my brain. Anger. Fear. How could this have happened during such a horrible time in life? Why God?! We were not doing well financially and because of that, along with already having four young children to parent, there was a terrible strain on our marriage. Why NOW, God?  Something else I noticed was blood. Was that normal? I should already know since I have four kids, but I Google it anyway. It can be normal but I also search signs of miscarriage. Chances increase with age of 35 years and older, too much caffeine intake, obesity… and all the other signs, everything checked off for me. Well, no time to dwell on it, it was time to give the STAAR test to my fifth graders. Can’t call in, just go to work, there will be plenty to take my mind off everything. Refill my coffee cup and get into my car.

The bleeding, though.  Hmmm. I consult with a school nurse and tell her everything. She says if I start cramping and bleeding more heavily, we’ll know it’s a miscarriage.  I proctor test, walk around the classroom all morning long. The cramps come and by lunch time, I’m miserable and bleeding heavily.  

I go home to have a miscarriage. It feels surreal.  My head is pounding, my heart is aching, I’m anxious and physically ill, but my body knows what to do. I call my midwife, Robin, and she lets me know what to expect and all I can do is wait.  Finally, I pass a life, a very little life. And in that instant my entire life changes.  

No one who knows me would describe me as a quiet person, but in those next few days, a new Melody emerged.  She didn’t know how to express what just happened. She cried a lot at home, but performed at work. Then she stopped crying because there was only numbness. When someone asked me how I was, it was jarring.  I couldn’t just tell them, “I just had a miscarriage, I’m super lost, and I didn’t even want to be pregnant, but I had no idea it would hurt this badly in my heart or body.” You don’t tell people that. So I didn’t.  

Like many others who have gone through miscarriage, and it is quite common, it triggered depression.  So much guilt. Anger and alienation. No matter that my family tried to explain to me that it wasn’t my fault, there was nothing they could say to convince me otherwise. 

For the first time in my life, I thought about Heaven quite differently.  Did I really have a baby? Would he or she be up there waiting for me one day like I had told so many others who had suffered through this painful journey before me? I reflected on this for a long time.  There was a point where the guilty part of me demanded to snap out of this, how could I be sad when I didn’t even want that baby? Honestly, there was no relief in losing this life. Did God still think it was precious? Did He think I was? How could I feel so far removed from Him when I needed Him the most? When I think of that year, I think of a black hole and feeling swallowed by the enormity of it.  The enormity of life going on around me and feeling unable to engage fully.  

But that’s not how my story ends. There came a time of forgiveness. There came a time of allowing myself all the tears that felt bottled over the passage of time. One of the first times I shared my story, someone rudely asked how I could even allow myself to be pregnant again when I already had four children. That was the comment I was most afraid of and when it finally arrived, it stung, but by then, I was craving the light and decided to let it go.

Life definitely looked differently to me. During the weekend of the year anniversary of my miscarriage, I found out I was pregnant again. So much amazement. So much love. So much fear. Life felt too fragile. Would it happen again? We thought it might. That pregnancy would be one filled with prayerful requests of faith to help me fight the fear that was constantly threatening to steal the joy.

Whit 💙

There came a point at the very end of my pregnancy with my last child, when we could not detect any movement or a heartbeat. I felt paralyzed in fear, but the prayers from my heart poured out, “Please, God, I do not want to lose him. But God if I have to lose him, I know You will be with me every moment through this.” I also knew in those moments that our lives were precious to Him. Robin, my midwife, was scared too but she didn’t tell me that until after we found a heartbeat an hour later (after I downed juice and was hooked up to a special monitor). Since I had my baby not too many days later, he could have just been getting into position ready to come. In fact, Robin was so kind and thoughtful throughout my entire pregnancy. She would let me see him every at every check up. I had shared with her my fears the entire pregnancy that I was afraid I would lose this baby, too. She understood. Her strength and wisdom really made a difference.

While I would never wish this kind of pain on anyone, there came a time when I realized I was a better human for going through it all.  Allowing the darkness to swallow me for a time actually gave me a new perspective on the light. When life reveals that rare moment of utter beauty, my heart begs me to soak it all in and live in that moment.  When we took our first family vacation to the shores of Alabama last year, I breathed it all in. Fear tried to steal those precious moments of joy, reminding me that the shoe could drop on the other side, but I knew that no matter what came next in life, we had this moment. Those memories are cherished more, now. 

First Family Vacation Summer 2018

Something else I learned was to listen more. We don’t experience loss the same, but one thing is to listen to those mourning. We don’t need to have all the answers or even the right words. Sometimes words are just wasted breath anyway. Thoughtful gestures by friends who cared were important. They let me know I was supported even if I didn’t have the words. With them, words weren’t necessary.

My faith is stronger now that I’ve experienced a bit of hell. We always hear that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  That is not true for everyone. There are some who choose bitterness. I am definitely a stronger person for going through tragedy, but I’ve also learned it’s not strength I’d have ever been able reach on my own.  Leaning on grace, mercy, and forgiveness is supernatural and beyond anything I could do for myself. I had to choose to lean into it and not avoid the pain anymore. 

Time has passed and the pain doesn’t choke me up every time I think about my miscarriage. But I will never forget my baby. Every time I think of the gap between Lizzie and Whit, I think of my Baby. Every time someone asks me how many kids I have, in my heart, I answer six. I can imagine my Baby meeting my Dad when he left this earth for Heaven, too. While this isn’t a club I would have chosen to belong to, I belong to it anyway. I cherish the ways it has changed me into the woman, mother, wife, and educator I am today.

Outta My League: Where I Choose To Be

Do you ever feel completely out of your depth? Out on a limb? In over your head? I do all the time. In fact, when I returned to full time teaching in 2015, after a three year absence of staying home with my children, TobyMac’s song Beyond Me was my anthem.

Returning to work was necessary and the right thing to do, though very challenging at the time. We had to find in-home childcare for three of our four children (ages almost one year, two years, and four years old) and that was not an easy task. One of our vehicles bit the dust the day before my first day back and we did not have the finances to fix it. But still, I knew returning to teaching was the right thing. It wasn’t easy emotionally or physically to leave my babies. The fear of returning to a job I never dreamed I’d return to was REAL. On top of those issues, my dreams of staying at home and home schooling my kiddos had to bite the dust. Also, upon returning, I realized I was way behind in technology! It felt like too much, just too hard to deal with. Do you know what I mean?

The problems we faced did not go away because I returned to work, but it definitely helped, and we got to keep our beautiful home, so there’s that. In fact, the year of 2015-2016 truly sucked in so many ways. I admit that because maybe you are reading this and your current year is sucking, too. I feel that.

Through the suck, we did find for all of our problems, there were solutions. We found care, we bought a used car with my first paycheck, we kept our home, and I learned all I could about education technology. Not finding solutions wasn’t even conceivable, right? When lives are in your care, their importance fuels you to go on even when you feel like the circumstances are too hard to conquer. My children and students were important enough to me to strike out and find a way.

This is where you insert your faith, a good playlist, ask for help, and do whatever you have to do to find a way. It doesn’t mean problems disappear, but it does mean you’ll find new opportunities and new dreams await you when you forgive that the life you thought you would lead is no longer going to run in that direction. There is a lot of grace and forgiveness in that waiting area.

Currently, I still feel like I live outta my league. But now I see it as a good thing. I’m so extremely blessed to live this life and the sucky days brought forth many rainbows personally and professionally. Embracing challenges and opportunities is something I wish for all of my friends, colleagues, and family. When you decide to face your battles, the growth that sets in your mind and body will take you places, man! Embracing adversity is one way to get to the next level. We were never going to live easy lives. The curve balls will never stop being thrown in our direction, but we don’t have to fear them, either. I know that even if I strike out, there’s still a chance I won’t. Like my brother told me years ago, “Melody, if it’s there, swing!” Striking out doesn’t feel as scary as not swinging at all. Now that I’m living beyond me, the new challenges we face feel like more promises of something greater than previously experienced. Sure there are crappy days, but also new joy waiting around the corner! Do you feel it?

Today, I celebrate the new! New dreams! New directions! New friends! New places! And even new problems! This is what life is about. I’m so glad you are in this race with me.

Finding Ways Through Math Anxiety

Today I write from two perspectives, well maybe three. I write as a teacher who has helped many students fill gaps in their learning of mathematics, as a parent who has watched her own children struggle, and now as a home educator using all I know to help fill gaps for my children. The struggle is real. As a public school educator responsible for teaching state standards, I realize how quickly the pace truly is in many of our schools. Teachers are slammed with data comparing their students with others and many times are made to feel like losers themselves. While there have to be math teachers out there rocking it, there are also math teachers struggling. We may find ourselves in both categories. But without a doubt, every year I taught fifth grade, my classroom was filled with more students lacking foundational math skills than not, and we can’t hope for growth unless we slow it down and address it.

Truthfully, I had my own personal struggles learning math as a child. My pace of learning math was much slower than my peers. There were teachers who were willing to help me in my primary grades which is why I never quit, but I missed out on recess for scoring low and was the victim of a teacher trying to reteach subtraction the same way over and over even though the method made zero sense to my six year old brain. But in high school, when the instruction felt completely foreign, I’d quit trying to learn and my anxious thoughts took over. My self talk was very negative and if it wasn’t for peers who understood, I wouldn’t have continued to try.

Ultimately, I did not want to be a math failure. I truly wanted to understand and succeed academically. One thing I started to do for myself was to continue taking notes and put question marks even when instruction ceased making sense. So when my friend would reteach a lesson to me after school, we would go back to those specific questions that were marked. This saved me! I stopped shutting down during instruction, took responsibility for my learning, and learned how to ask specific questions to find connections that were missing in my mind. These are ideas I’ve always tried to teach my students, too.

Teaching fifth grade math for years, most of my students came to me lacking foundational skills. However, learning to see natural signs of avoidance and discomfort was second nature. Math anxiety is real. Seeing students shut down immediately while transitioning to math was something I always looked for and talked about. Over the years, students told me my math instruction was the first time they understood place value or multiplication or long division. But I can honestly tell you that to get those students to that point, there were bouts of panic, tears, and anxiety to overcome.

Now I’m seeing it first hand with my children as they learn math, too. But my oldest child, now in fifth grade, is why I want to address this today. She has always been a strong student but started exhibiting behaviors of avoidance last year in the fourth grade. Her behaviors stemmed from not understanding and often led to her being in trouble. At the time, I thought she was being rebellious, but now as we re-enter into those math skills, her anxiety rears itself in the form of angry outbursts, tears, and stomach pain. To counteract this, I reassure her it’s okay if she uses her fingers (I’m 38 and still do sometimes), I remind her it’s okay to make mistakes, and more than anything, there is no hurry. She is safe with me. She doesn’t have to worry about not knowing the answers all the time, making mistakes is a natural way of learning, and I’m right next to her to help when she is facing confusion and self-doubt.

My teaching career has shown me that the longer our students face an inability to form necessary connections in their math foundation, the more anxious they feel and will be less likely to ask questions. Their behavior can become erratic and they will do anything they can to avoid math. If not addressed by us as their teachers, the less likely we will help them grow in their gaps while they are our students.

When we see struggling students, there are things we can do immediately to help lessen our students’ anxiety:

Teach them how to breathe through their anxiety and let them close their books or notebooks.

Go over examples explicitly and don’t rely on things they “should already know.” Show them how to write this in their notes, too.

Let them use their fingers! Eventually they will pick up patterns and not need to (or maybe they always will) but if they need their fingers, let them use them! What is the big deal about using fingers, anyway?

Remind them that making mistakes is okay. The process is more important.

Rely on small group instruction and even individual instruction when necessary.

Review, review, review before going on!

Model making connections during instruction.

Use real talk with your students. Acknowledging that I struggled and found a way through it has helped many of my students throughout the years.

Today, I helped my own child in place value and using algebraic skills. I talked her down from the ledge of anxiety and frustration. Because she didn’t quit, she gained in grit. I stayed close by at first and then walked away so she could do more on her own and learn a process after showing her some examples. It was amazing to watch as she pulled out her math notebook (that she started on her own) and begin writing down what she knew she would forget. I helped her mark some areas with more explicit examples so she could return later and truly understand.

The process started out a little painful. She lashed out more because she’s in the comfort of her own home. Admittedly, I used a few choice words before reigning in and realizing she was acting out from anxiety. Math instruction can look messy and we talked about that. She was able to voice her frustrations from previous years and her mom teacher just listened without judgement. We won today and developed more perseverance. That’s a win for #MathMonday!

What do you do to help your students or children gain in math through their anxiety? Let’s continue the discussion!

Here is a little story my daughter and I put together using the Book Creator App! Enjoy!

Safe Spaces Aren’t for Snowflakes

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be presenting at one of the largest educator conferences in our country, #ISTE19.  I’ll be presenting a 45-minute, interactive lecture about Using Edtech to Promote Inclusion and Diversity in the Classroom.  And as I continue editing my slideshow and talking points, those poignant moments when kids were brave enough to bare their souls and share about the labels and context this world had already put on them, flood my mind.  When I get nervous and doubt that I’m the right person to be sharing this message, I have to remind myself that I’m doing this for them and others like them.  Doubts that a white, privileged middle class American woman could offer anything that would help anyone else understand, well that’s a hurdle in my mind. I’m glad for it though, it will keep me humble and away from a know-it-all attitude.

There were times in my career when I wish I was recording conversations about race and culture so I could share with those, like me, who had no clue that young students were developing poor esteems based on their melanin levels.  Once during a guided reading lesson, an eleven year old told me he was Mexican but he didn’t like how his neighbors called him Mexican.  He said it made him feel bad.  This led a conversation around the table about the labels these kids were carrying.  One boy shared he didn’t mind being called black or African American.  Those were nice labels. One boy said he just wanted to be called Abraham, his name.   We chuckled when he said that because it lightened the mood.  I listened.  Honestly, what did I have to offer? I was super green as a teacher in a diverse classroom, and it was my turn to learn from my students.  If others could just hear them, too, maybe they’d see how lethal words could be, how devastating the n-word is for children developing into young people.

Safe spaces aren’t for sissies or snowflakes.  Young people need to share and we need to listen.  It is the greatest professional development…greatest people development that our profession can offer.  We can call it a classroom community, but kids who feel secure and loved will open up and allow you into their lives in transforming ways…for all involved.  My students were excellent teachers.

Diversity in education isn’t just about skin color or ethnic background.  There is diversity in learning styles, teaching styles, preferred communication, and levels of voice to name a few.  That’s why I love edtech.  It reaches beyond the habitual hand-raisers.  It gives everyone an opportunity to shine and share. (My favorite teaching tools are Nearpod and Flocabulary!)  But to reach students, and for them to desire to give us their best, that safe space needs to be in place.  It’s not for sissies and snowflakes, it’s for young people using their voices, learning how to speak up, and feeling comfortable to dust off after failure and keep trying.

This may be old news for you, but if not, and you are wondering how to grow that safe space, I want to put forth some considerations for you:

  1.  What are the assumptions you have about people of color, people who have a different religion, or people with preferences you don’t understand?  Even when we don’t say a word, our assumptions speak volumes.
  2.  How comfortable do you feel being around people who are unlike you?  Do you avoid it at all costs or do you embrace moments where you are in the minority?
  3. Mellody Hobson, in her TED Talk, suggests us to not hide from what makes us uncomfortable but to tackle it head on so we can get “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as that is where growth and success take place.
  4. Lastly, are you open to talking about current events that are weighing heavily on your students, even when you don’t understand the reasons?  When we listen, I mean really listen, we will learn so much about our students.

From personal experience, growing up in white America, we are taught to be color blind, keep away from talking about race relations, and thank God that we live in a better time where everyone is treated equally with the same opportunities as anyone else.  But talking and learning from others who grew up with a different perspective of America, we have a lot to learn.

For minorities and marginalized people, the opportunities aren’t always as plentiful and more walls have to be climbed for victory.  For many, using their voice to fight inequality gets them labeled with all sorts of stereotypes, and it’s easy to grow weary in the process.  If we allow ourselves to own this reality of different perspectives, yes in this great land even, then it’s easier to see what our students need from us.  We can help them achieve what they need to for the success they are looking for.  When we care enough to see past our assumptions, and our minds grow too large to house the dangerous misconceptions about others, we will naturally want to form that safe space for our kids.  It’s not built from physical materials, it starts with the connections we allow ourselves to form when we can see a child for the beautiful being in front of us with God-given talents and abilities.  We will do anything for that child. We will give that child a clean slate on a daily basis.  We will teach our hearts out.  We will water his/her dreams by creating moments and opportunities that ignite curiosity!

We will build that safe space for them.

Minding My Mind

Today the local library put on a STEM Hour.  It began with a lecture/slideshow about the Apollo missions and history.  Turns out, that before they could send a person into space, one of their missions was just to send a machine to crash into the moon.  Purposely, this machine crashed into the moon, and only then did they began a lunar module designed to not crash on the moon.  Or you know, land safely. 😉

Are you with me when I ask, how many life lessons can we squish out of that, alone??? So many metaphors, and as an educator who thrives on social emotional learning, it’s just thrilling!

But what really got me thinking was that if it was based on my mind to help get people to the moon or in the air, or to Jefferson City, we’d all be in real trouble.  My mind does not comprehend physics or very much engineering at all.  Geometry gave me a sweat.  Then I started thinking about my two oldest children, ages 8 and 10, and I realized they are smarter than their 38 year old mom! Hahaha! If we were stranded and needed to get into space, I’m pretty sure they’d get us there more quickly than anything I could think up!

While I could be sad that I’m just not that smart, instead, I am amazed by the way their brains operate.  They have engineering brains like their Daddy, my husband.  And it’s amazing because it’s so very different than how my mind processes life.  On an even grander scale, I began to think about all the different kinds of minds that comprise our world, today.  People not only strong in physics, but those like me, who can read people and emotions very well.  People who are masters in communication.  Those of us who find words and their meanings as enthralling in nature, don’t always realize that not everyone thinks like us, either.  Communication break downs are so frustrating, but not all of us are as in touch with feelings and putting them into words.

To me this is so beautiful.  It’s a God-moment for me.  Nothing is accidental.  We all have areas of strengths. Oftentimes, we don’t appreciate our strengths, and we wish we were more like so-and-so whose artistic ability is other worldly, or we wish we were more connected spiritually like someone we know.  Honestly, I took a moment to just appreciate the innate, God-given gifts that were bestowed upon me, right there in that gym-cafeteria combo.  I realized how blessed I am, with my mind, with my abilities, and all the opportunities that come with my life.  And I was eternally grateful for those who are so unlike me, the inventors, mathematicians, and artists! We need all of us!

It also made me question even more why we’ve become a society who puts so much into standardized test data.  The data on those tests could never quantify the potential inside each child, but it has the power to intimidate them and leave them wondering if they will measure up…all based on a standard that does little to enrich our lives in any, real way.

Let’s have a mission to embrace our strengths and help others to see their own when they’ve been beat down.  Some people think our future is nothing to look forward to, but when I see life through my children’s eyes, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

What do you think your strengths are in life? How do you use them to make life better for others? I’d love to hear your story!

 

The Heart of a Teacher

Listening to Rod Stuart’s Forever Young today on the radio gave me all the feels.  It’s an old song, but it’s lyrics and the season of graduation, remind me of how I feel for all of the young people who have laughed, sat, cried, sang, and enjoyed the classroom experience with me at some point these last fifteen years.

There are educators in our world whose rewards come only after years, when a former student graduates and remembers the impact he/she had on his/her life. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with many amazing students with loving parents every year of my teaching life.  Becoming friends with parents and adult students has been one of the many gifts of my teaching career.

Nonetheless, for all of us who have given of ourselves in the gritty and challenging work of helping children grow into successful young people, watching our students graduate is thrilling!  It’s a reminder that our work is a legacy.  Reality says good or bad, we leave an imprint on our students’ lives, but I’m speaking up for those of us who pour our love into each child whom we’ve encountered.  There are students who have sat in our classrooms, or students we’ve mentored from other rooms, or students who remember that every time they saw us, we had a smile to share.  The community built within a school has so much potential to help grow and stretch that child into the person they dream to be.  As an educator who has witnessed this many times over, I tell you that it’s worth it all.

Educators will encounter disrespect from the very people they try to help the most. They will encounter admin who try to micromanage.  They will sit through professional development counter-intuitive to what is learned through working daily with children.  They will show up to work sick because it’s easier than making sub plans.  They will show up to work during the most traumatic of life events, and they will do it every year because that is how we are wired.  And while those are the hardest parts of teaching, there are so many amazing things, too: watching learning and behavior gaps shrink, building community/family within a class, loving each child through every storm they face while in our class, the thank you notes and drawings just for us, the growth, and watching new passions take off while learning—all these things far outweigh the negatives.  Watching our students successfully enter adulthood is a thrill we share.  Knowing we had a part, it just can’t be matched.

Teaching isn’t a work of fairy tales and is not for the faint of heart.  Summer breaks are as necessary and restorative as weekends. We give so much of ourselves because we know what it takes to help raise a child up.  We feel a lot of guilt for spending more time with other people’s children than our own.  But I tell you, this season of watching a student spread his or her wings is such a reward.  We do it all over and over again because our hearts’ purpose would choose nothing else.

And that’s our teachers’ hearts.  We love watching you walk across the stage to receive your diploma.  We love to see you enjoy your jobs and college experiences.  We love to be invited to your weddings and baby showers.  We love to be part of our students’ lives forever.  Even if you gave us a hard time, we choose to remember the best (exactly how you like to remember us even when we’ve made our own mistakes).

I don’t know if there is a profession quite like our’s with such a sweet reward.  So, I am truly grateful to know and remember that God has put me into position to have touched hundreds of lives since 2004.

Congrats to all of our graduates past and present!  We want to see you achieve all you hope for in life!  We hope to have impacted your life, but never doubt that your impact on our lives is just as real.

On Trusting God When It Hurts

There was not one moment this summer when Mac & I found a good time to eat outside on our patio under the umbrella enjoying coffee & conversation. As soon as summer break released me from work, I began packing for our first family vacation. It was a beautiful & peaceful time spent with dear friends, but every mom knows that vacations are hard work! This was no exception. However, seeing our friends and visiting with our family in Alabama was worth every moment and penny!

Unfortunately the week we came back, my husband, knowing something was very wrong, headed to the ER and from there, our entire lives were altered. Having him home for the summer was always a dream, but not like this. After a life-saving procedure, complicated setbacks, and being separated from our kids for two weeks, it was time to come home and recover. You can imagine the challenges we faced with four rambunctious children at home along with a teething six month old.

We honestly wouldn’t have made it through without the support and prayers of our family and friends. My sister, Faith, and her family kept the kids.  My close friend, Ivana, flew in from Florida on a day’s notice to help my Aunt Carol with our baby.  Countless friends came to visit and pray with us at the hospital; Michelle, Margaret, Niloufer & Paul, Atesh & Mike, Ivette & Charlie, Laurie, Tacha & Annette, my sister-in-laws, Lisa and Kim, and two of my co-workers, Debbie and Ximena, came and sat with me during the eight hour surgery.  My friend, Mel, ran errands, and my friends Allison and Michael picked up pumped milk for our baby, and my sweet friends brought me food and gift cards to show me I wasn’t alone.  The care and support continued as we came home with dinners, a reclining chair from our friends Ami and Sean.  And then my friend Cheri made a gofundme for us and a few friends may not even realize how much they’ve helped us financially! I know I’m not listing everyone who has loved on us, but please know that you made this time of healing easier to bear, and we will never forget it.  I don’t know how other families would make it through without a support group like we have had.  I hope I will be better at helping others in the future with the love lessons of servant-hood we have learned from so many!

But even with so many people loving and praying for us, depression was a real thing, cabin fever, insomnia, short tempers, and other complications threatened to steal our peace.  Many days they did.  Ugly tears…uncertainty…confusion, and so much more.  And now another round of unemployment… while just a few months ago we had more than enough.  Now, I’m trying to trust in God’s plan, but it is so hard!  Are we being punished? Did we do wrong?  Did we fail? Why are things so damn hard?!

Because. Life. No one is immune to this.  No one escapes hard times.  No one escapes desperate times.  We will all face them, and it doesn’t matter our race, gender, financial status, education, religion… and maybe you, too, are facing these hard times as you read this post.

This past week, I downloaded the Bible App again and searched out this plan called “Trusting God’s Process” by Brittany Rust.  And I’m so glad I did.  It reminded me that trusting in God is hard.  There are days when everything feels like it’s caving in, but God.  I started to get panicky again last night, and the only thing I could think of is I can’t let my mind go down this trail.  But God. One day at a time. He is not punishing us.  He loves us. He has shown us through so many ways and so many people.

This Bible Study reminded me to pray with Scripture, and take one day at a time.  When thinking about all that is ahead, I can’t escape the worry, fear, and anxiety, until the Holy Spirit reminds me, during hard prayers, that I won’t have the answers, and if I try to make it work, as I have in the past, I’m not truly trusting in God.  All the ideas I have to make it through will not work, they will only lead me down another heart wrenching road, and I can’t go there!  My family needs my husband and I to truly place our trust in God and let Him have the reigns.

So much easier said than done.  But we are choosing to be faithful.

And I want you to know, Friend, when you see good things come our way, when you see our lives being transformed through the fire, it was because of Him.  It was because we finally trusted Him with our lives and future.

I hope if you find yourself in a desperate situation, you will find Him, too.

Yes, there are consequences to making life happen in our way, consequences that hurt and lead us through situations God never intended for our lives…but God.  He forgives, he makes a new way, and He will do it for me, and He will do it for You.

I am going to pray in faith, using Scripture to help me when my trust starts to slip away and my fear tries to take over.  I hope you will, too.

See you on the other side.