Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class. 

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin. 

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too. 

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.  

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math… 

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.  

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood. 

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students. 

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negatiave self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.  

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.  

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.  

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar! 

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand. 

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!! 

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With It, Mathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book called Math Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruption by Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!  

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle! 

Born To Fly

Hanging around my house, you might get annoyed with me after hearing THAT SONG for the twentieth time. When a song’s lyrics and sound resonate with me, I just have to learn the words, know its background and artist, see its video, and understand its entire context. I’m a bit much 😉 when good music is on the line.

Born to Fly takes me back to my $198/mo studio apartment on Ashland Avenue. Full blast listening & singing, owning my destiny. Knowing there were great things in store for me & I was almost ready to take off.

I remember hearing Sara Evans’ “Born To Fly” 20 years ago and making it my anthem. Right up there with “Wide Open Spaces.”

And I did.

And the greatest adventures weren’t anything I could dream up! I had no idea how life would go, but I knew great things were ahead. I was right.

So I heard this song and had to download it and play it on repeat, full blast. Road trips, laughter, and even memories of youthful fear flooded my mind.

20 years later, and this song is still my anthem. So many adventures await for 2020 and it’s exciting. But I know that getting to these next few places depends on the relationships in my life and the value in learning along the way, being present, and most importantly, grateful. 💙

I’m not too old to fly & neither are you! #CHANGE 🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

It’s Okay To Change

It’s okay to change. 

It’s okay to grow.  

It’s okay if you have become more informed and have decided to act more positively towards others with this new information. We are meant to grow as humans, and allowing others to grow and change is a way to show acceptance. Sometimes others won’t understand and they’ll decide to leave your life. Let them. Being true to your own spirit may require this sacrifice.

This past week, I started, and quickly finished, the book It’s Okay To Say “They”: Tips for Educator Allies of Transgender and Nonbinary Students by Christy Whittlesey, PhD.  I wanted to read this book because of my journey to be more inclusive for all students.  Normally, I focus on matters of race, but I felt clueless where to start when addressing needs of students who are LGBTQ and nonbinary. My goal is to be a voice of change in our education system by being transparent in my journey as an educator who has struggled with implicit bias and learned how to change for the benefit of my students,community, and family.  Equity issues tend to be controversial, but it’s even harder to talk about inclusion issues for LGBTQ and nonbinary students. Some of us don’t know the proper terms and we are not sure how we can stay true to our Christian values and support those in this community. Coming from a conservative Christian background has given me an insight to this internal struggle, and I hope to help others who have similar backgrounds find a way to accept our youth. 

Growing up in our household, being gay seemed the worst possible thing you could become. As kids, we used the word “gay” as a way to make fun of others.  I even remember hearing conversations about parents using “tough love” on their gay children. This tough love meant throwing them out for making this decision (refusing to consider the possibility that their kids were born with their sexuality) and finding that others in the faith community believed these parents had no other choice.  There was a hard stance against homosexuality and anything along the lines of being LGBTQ. It was ungodly and sinful. Like clockwork, the Scripture to back it up was always about Sodom and Gomorrah. This was my world growing up and this became part of my views as a young adult…until I started questioning these absolute stances that lacked any sort of compassion and grace. 

At almost 40 years old, being able to question everything is probably the greatest gift my education has given me!  I am still a person of faith, but in the last decade, as a student of the Scripture, I became acutely aware that our roles as Believers is not to spread condemnation.  Quite the opposite, actually. But like so many, I was either a mouthpiece of hate, or didn’t say anything, for a long time. For this I am sincerely sorry and hope that this next leg in life is to help others feel lifted up and accepted for who they are, and that includes their sexuality.

So maybe you are like me.  Maybe you wonder how you can care for your LGBTQ and nonbinary students without feeling like you are going angainst your Christian values? I pray my journey can help you find some light, too. 

The first thing to consider is that our faith does not allow us to hate anyone. If you feel hate for the LGBTQ movement of people, there has got to be a check on your heart. When Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, He answered, “Love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and then to love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving your LGBTQ neighbor is OKAY. And if you want to go even deeper into this, remember that God created every human being and has given them their unique abilities. When others don’t look or act like us, a feeling of superiority can be detrimental and kill connection. Feeling like we can condemn others comes from that sense of superiority.

Another thing to question is ‘why’?  Why do we, as Christians, feel so outraged against people who are LGBTQ or nonbinary?  The first time I talked with a young person who was gay and loved Jesus, my walls crumbled. That was over ten years ago and it helped me see a human side to an issue highly politicized and polarizing in the faith community.  We do not need to change these people. We do not need them to be straight so they can enter Heaven. It became obvious to me that we need to LOVE people like my young friend. To them, our acceptance is our love. We are not God.  We do not know all the answers or decide the fate of anyone. Heaping judgement and condemnation is the antithesis to what the Bible has called us to do.  

This is an important issue to work through if you are an educator, parent, or human.  I read an article several years ago that gave a statistic of the number of young people who are gay in the church.  They grew up in a church culture. They know who Jesus Christ is, but they are still not heterosexual. They may be LGBTQ.  They may even want to transition into a different gender, or ultimately decide they fit into neither gender category. As an educator, I need to be prepared to have a student in my class working through this identity discovery.  As a mother, I want to love my child for anything and everything without feeling I have to force my beliefs on them and creating a division where they feel they can no longer share their life with me. As a human, who thrives on connection, I do not want anyone to feel I look down upon them for living a life I have never lived through myself.  

The book It’s Ok to Say “They” and its author, Dr. Whittlesey, has given many insights on how we can welcome transgender and nonbinary students into our classrooms. Using “they” is one important way to help them feel safe and accepted, while letting them know we genuinely care about their lives. It’s important we learn to do this because their bullying and suicide rates indicate the need they have for allies. If you see others put their pronouns in their information, that is a welcome mat stating they’ve heard and they see our students who have been marginalized. As a parent, my child being hurt by others and ultimately taking their own life scares me more than anything else! I want to be a person who can connect with others, even when they don’t have the same lifestyle or sexuality as me. Their lives are as important as mine. They have unique ideas and talents to share. They will help make this world better like their heterosexual, binary, and cisgender peers.

If you are hoping to learn more about being an ally, this book is a great place to start.  My eleven year old asked if she could read this book and she did. When I asked her what she learned, she said, “It’s going to help me know how to treat trans people.” And then I asked her how she was going to do that, and she said, “Like everyone else.” In her mind, it’s simple because we have had conversations at home about this and she is growing up with a strong value of loving others as they are.  Recently, when they met a transgender woman during a holiday party, my oldest daughter and son were polite. I saw my son’s eyes widen as I watched his reaction to meeting our new friend, but that was it. When we talked about it the next day, both children said it confused them why a man would want to be a woman, but they knew judging her was not an option. They have both decided to follow our faith and the Bible, and I could not be more proud of them.  The conversations we have are powerful in regards to how we treat others, but they also know that I am a safe place of love for them as they grow up. I hope all five of my children understand this because it’s the truth. I will not turn my back on them as they grow into the people they will become.  

But you and I are not children.  We have probably struggled with this topic because many of us grew up in a hostile environment regarding those who are LGBTQ. For us, it requires change in a rigid mindset and a purposeful game plan for more inclusive thought.  It requires us to genuinely care for the comfort of our transgender and nonbinary students and neighbors.  

My thoughts are not popular in a conservative circle.  My thoughts are not politically driven. I accept that I might be harshly judged and criticized by others for putting this out in the world.  But it’s my belief, that we are here to love others without an agenda. Living with that belief will keep me from changing back into the person I used to be.  It’s not that I don’t care about rejection, but at the end of the day, I have to live with myself and I refuse to hate or judge others simply because they don’t fit the status quo. If you’re with me and you want to be a changemaker for these young people, you have to take action.  Not taking action, afraid you will offend them or others, actually hurts our students and that is the message of It’s OK to Say They. If you are ready and want a place to start, this is a great way to begin.  

And remember, it’s okay to change. 

They are depending on it.

Red Hands

He threw open the door, ran hard up the stairs, and didn’t come back down. The water started running in the tub for a few minutes and then silence. My oldest took the baby and I went upstairs to investigate.

What I found sent me into angry-mom mode instantly. Red paint on the carpet, on the bathroom faucet, and all over the tub. When I found him, he was wrapped up in a blanket crying. That calmed me down a little bit. When I demanded to know the story he unwrapped himself and showed me the red paint that covered both hands and wrists.

Truthfully, I was very upset, and I had to stop talking because there was washing up to do. Have you ever cleaned paint off skin? Soap does nothing. The strongest cleaner I had was fingernail polish remover. It worked and I used the entire bottle on him.

As I scrubbed his hands over the sink, I asked him a few questions. He told me yes, he knew it was wrong and he ignored that voice telling him so. He told me he was sorry and sad as he watched the paint run from his hands onto mine, settling into my nails and skin. Then he said something that took the wind from my sails, “That’s what sin is, isn’t it? When you know something is wrong and you do it anyway.”

So I answered, “Yes, that’s what sin is. But I’m happy to help you get this cleaned up even though it’s making my hands red, too. I’m your mom and this is my job. But I wish you had just told me what you had done instead of making a bigger mess trying to clean it up yourself.”

We had read devotions every morning and sometimes before bed and he wasn’t a big fan. But the conversations had reached him and he understood in that moment.

And that’s when I wasn’t angry or irritated with him any longer. I thanked God for a lesson I could never give him otherwise.

We will celebrate the birth of Christ in two days. We believe in the miracle of His birth to his mother, Mary, a virgin.

However, it makes me even more grateful for the one miracle coming this spring, the Easter miracle. We celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ who took on our sins after living a blameless life. Similar to the love I have for my son, but so much deeper and more pure, is the love He has shown to us. Like the red paint that ran on to my hands, so did He take on our guilt. He lived 33 years without sin but willingly took on our’s.

We are all guilty of ignoring our inner voice which can many times result in pain for ourselves or others. We have all been guilty of being selfish. There is not one person you can look at who is perfect. But that’s not the story we have to focus on. Because Jesus knew even after His miraculous birth, life, death, and resurrection that we would still not be perfect and He loves us anyway. Knowing the truth didn’t change His mind or actions.

The Savior of our hearts can handle it all. He can handle every mess we decide to finally hand over.

And it’s His specialty.

I write this today knowing that even my messy life does not keep Him from loving me. Reflecting and being grateful for a grace and love I could never earn but willingly accept is a gift given daily that is always worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas!

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.

Follow the #PSquareLN on Twitter!

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. 

Structural Racism

I don’t always do a great job of having conversations on social media about race. Many times it’s because my emotions get in the way. But one thing I do well is sharing my experiences as I learn. It’s important to me because I am an ally for my Friends of Color and Students of Color. My world is better for the color they bring to it. Growing up the word “color blind” was popular. It meant we don’t see anyone’s color because we are all equal. It means we don’t judge people because they are a different color. And it also encouraged us not to talk about color.

But you see, if we don’t talk about color, which is very uncomfortable most times, we will never understand how our Friends of Color have very different perspectives on our American history. We will never understand that people are alive today who were born into segregation, and that we still have so much work to do to ensure that walls and barriers come down so we are truly equal in this dream that started in 1776.

Sometimes the most defensive of us are the ones who think we are part of the solution of helping unify us all. I’ll take a defensive white person over someone who refuses to acknowledge problems, any day. I know that I have been unfollowed or unfriended by a large portion of people in my life for the views I have, and I’m okay with that. I used to do this too when I was afraid of the truth or when I felt largely uncomfortable with the truth because I did not know how to stop feeling guilty for the generations before me. I did not understand that I was actually perpetuating racism myself by staying ignorant, or choosing not to reflect on my thought processes of bias and prejudice. In some ways, I’m reaping what I sowed, too.

Tonight, I’m trying to educate myself more on “structural racism” and how that has impacted everything in the daily lives for People of Color. It literally bleeds into our education system, our housing systems, prison systems, voting systems, and that’s just the part I understand.

So maybe learn with me. Let’s have some dialogue that looks at information as a seeker of truth rather than a defender of our current, failing systems. I have lots of passionate friends who truly want to be change makers, and I think we can definitely be just that. Together.

https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/say-african-american-or-black-first-acknowledge-persistence-structural-racism

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.