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.

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!

#OneMonthGoals Reflection

This past August was my first round of #OneMonthGoals. Read here for how I stumbled upon Michael Matera, Educator and Author of Explore Like a Pirate, and his encouragement to join his movement one month at a time! His goal was different than mine, and others who gave it a go had their own goals. It has been refreshing to see other people doing things we’ve been sitting on for too long. We finally put in the action required!

The discoveries I made this month are priceless. The lessons on real self care will stay with me forever and continue to help me grow. The encouragement of people supporting me was awesome. Thank YOU for joining me this first month and I hope you will be encouraged to start your own journey, too.

Celebrating a personal challenge!

My initial goal for August was to spend 30-35 minutes, three times a week, at the local gym that my husband and I pay a pretty chunk to every month. That meant that I had to get over myself and come to terms with my insecurities. It meant that I had to be purposeful about how I spent my time and make sure I was scheduling time for myself, which as a mom of five, is a challenge all on its own. There are women in my life who have made their health priorities and to those women, I applaud you! Your examples mean so much and watching you has encouraged me more than you could know!

Benefits of starting my #OneMonthGoals journey:

I surpassed my goal of 30-35 minutes! By week two, I enjoyed my workout so much that they have lasted at least one hour.

Found out how incredible it feels to challenge myself physically and feel good about it within.

Feel more comfortable in the gym setting and know more about some of the machines.

I’ve become my number one cheerleader. I learned early on that the guilt and negative self-talk would not get me anywhere. So, I just started using positive talk, like I would my friend, and it pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. Even now, my mindset has shifted and my thoughts towards myself are that of a healthier-minded person! This is transformative!

I finally understand what self care really looks like. It’s not giving in to every guilty pleasure. It’s doing what’s best for me even when I don’t feel like it. It’s carving time for myself to do what I need to do. It’s allowing myself the grace I’d give to anyone else, and understanding that even when I fail or fall behind, I’m not a loser. Self care is surrounding myself with supportive people and being supportive of others who have goals.

Feeling confident inside & out!

I’m going to keep working on #OneMonthGoals because it has helped me stay accountable and encouraged. My September goal is to try one new thing at the gym that I’ve been too scared to do for a myriad of reasons. I know I want to play basketball, do a water aerobics class, and who knows what else! I believe by the end of the month, I’ll be more brave and fit. It’s exciting to think about!

Another benefit of completing my #OneMonthGoals is showing myself that I can finish something that seemed too hard in the past. I enjoy exercising! My kids are seeing me take care of my health and that is something that will speak to them as they grow up. Jogging on a treadmill with a smile on my face is not someone I thought I’d be, but here we are, folks. I predict by August of 2020, my reflection on this past year will be one of tremendous pride, growth, and gratitude that I’ve only had a taste of so far!

It’s not too late to join me! What will your #OneMonthGoals look like?

Learned how empowering it is to put myself on the priority list! Created an inspiring playlist helped, too!

#VintageAugust: The More Things Change….

The more things change, the more they stay the same is illustrated by a young man’s social media posts on FaceBook. Monty Kane is an actor who is using his talent of recreation to educate his audience that though our country has made major strides for equality, we still have much work to do. If you follow his #VintageAugust posts, you will see how history continues to repeat itself through systemic racism. You can feel his passion as he recreates for #VintageAugust. He’s not just trying to make a name for himself, he’s celebrating the men who came before him so he is able to do what he is doing now. #VintageAugust is recreative art through pictures of men who lived through slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. He said he likes to weave history in the present to show the similarities. He’s had mostly positive feedback, but wise beyond his years, feels that for those who don’t understand, it’s because they had a whole lifetime of growing up learning something different. He is not trying to change people’s minds, he just wants to celebrate the history that paved the way for him. For anyone who cares about humanity, #VintageAugust is not easy to see and read, but he is hoping the discomfort we feel will push us to see life in our century from the lens of a Person Of Color. What you do with this information is up to you, but he’s bravely and vulnerably allowing his art to be a catalyst of transformation.

Here is Monty Kane’s latest recreation of BoJangles, a man who fought for better acting roles for African American actors while he made a living by his simpleton roles.
Photo Credit: Monty Kane

As a teacher, it thrills me to read someone’s writing and research as he explains why he chose the recreation and tells about the time in history. That’s why I asked and he agreed to have a Skype interview! Though I am almost two decades older than Monty, I am learning so much through this process. His #VintageAugust clearly makes the case that we need more than a month of Black History and Black History is not just for Black People. The history he showcases is a history meaningful to us all.

When talking about systemic racism, the argument “that was a long time ago” is often used to excuse ourselves as white people from responsibility of creating necessary change. But Monty’s own life reflects that our public systems, especially our schools, are still very oppressive for People Of Color (POC) as he recalls his public school education that took place in the 2000s. Growing up in urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had a positive and strong upbringing by his mother and Grammen. Grammen is the name he gave his grandmother when he was a youngster and could not say “Grand One” clearly. He said they really didn’t have much but he felt like he had everything because of the love poured out on himself and siblings.

Monty Kane’s Mother

But his schooling? Not so bright. When we discussed the challenges Monty faced as a young person, he said it was a lack of resources. In high school, he transferred to a charter school and there were 8-10 students per class as opposed to the 30-40 students per class at his public school. That’s when he realized there were other schools with smaller classes, library databases, and caring adults who could help students figure out college, which became a possibility as learning came to life after he transferred to his new school. He really got into his education, even though math was difficult for him and he realized he was considerably behind from not gaining skills his entire k-8 grades. He had a lot of catching up to do! BUT he did. And the math teacher that helped him, Tom Mlynarek, is his friend to this day. He described that in public school he was falling through the cracks, and whether he was doing his work or not, he wasn’t learning much and no one seemed to care. But at his new high school, it was opposite. Again, as an educator, this means so much to hear from a young person’s perspective. This highlights the lack of equitable experiences for many living in urban areas and the desperate need for a systematic overhaul so all children have the tools necessary to succeed in life. Although Monty was able to leave a failing system, thousands of other students were not. He said he was not aware of the lack of resources until he attended a school that was able to support his learning needs in the ways it counts for young people!

It was probably through a hashtag during Black History Month over a year ago that I first came across Monty’s work on Facebook. Have you ever met someone and just knew they were destined for great things? Well, that’s how I would describe my friend, Monty Kane. At the time he was a college student, but as of May 2019, he is a graduate of Cardinal Stritch University. I celebrated this milestone along with him through social media.

Before this August, I’ve watched him recreate scenes from the show Martin and laughed because he nails him every time. I’ve watched him sing, laugh, and act realizing I’m watching a young star come up! The more he put out there for us, the more I wanted to know the story of Monty’s life. And while listening to him describe it, I see how he has defeated every stereotype thrown at him. Though he grew up with a single mom, she was not weak, nor was his grandmother. He had everything he needed. He did not choose a gangster lifestyle, and has kept away from drugs, including alcohol. He thrived in school and learning about African American culture was among his favorite studies. He’s faced setbacks and learned from them. He appreciates the Men and Women Of Color who came before him.

Photo Credit: Monty Kane

Monty says he has always loved acting. His first gig was as an infant, starring as Baby Jesus! By age five, he knew acting was for him. He acted in community theater and used it to help give back to his hometown. They would collect hygiene items or canned goods for the homeless in lieu of selling tickets. After high school, he studied at a culinary school because he thought that was a safer path and he was good at cooking. He didn’t share with everyone that he really wanted to go into acting, but the same week he left culinary school, someone shared with him about Cardinal Stritch University and how their theater arts program was amazing. He wants to share that it’s good to have a plan B, but don’t have a plan B until you wear out Plan A. Plan A was acting and he realized that there wasn’t going to be joy in his life unless he pursued his passions. So as a young man, his love of acting plus giving back to his community has been his drive.

Monty Kane’s Grammen

The more he spoke in our interview, the more I could see the legacy of his Grammen and Mother living right on through everything he has done in and with his life. As a public school educator, I know hundreds of young people. I can tell you that he stands out as a young man fiercely determined to see his dreams come to light. His talent is beyond the superficial. He is already a role model for people of all ages. Our country needs the kind of strength emanating from his art. It will bring forth much needed change if we allow ourselves to grow through the discomfort. Our young people still need for us to fight for equitable resources and opportunities in education. History curriculum needs to embrace our minority heroes who helped build this country up to the amazing nation it is today so our students see themselves as part of a living history and continue the work. Resources, smaller classes, and counselors helping students visualize a productive future with their talents is priceless and necessary. Monty Kane, through his life and art of recreation, is proof we all need to be putting in the work to fight and change the oppressive systems that still exist.

Photo Credit: Monty Kane

Follow Monty on his Facebook Page The Monty Kane Project which features original skits and recreated scenes: https://www.facebook.com/TheMontyKaneProject/    

Monty’s next play is Alabama Story and its based on segregation: https://www.facebook.com/events/2341943099398616/?ti=cl