Character Education, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

Angels among us

In my lifetime, if ever there was a time that seemed hopeless, we are living in it. Pandemic, facing the ugly reality of systemic racism in our nation, economic crisis, corrupt leadership, people turning on other people over big and small issues, uncertainty for our children, ourselves, our future…these and the regular every day struggles we all face contribute to a time where hopelessness can run rampant. How do we look at a time like this and find hope that there can and will be something better?

I have realized recently through a string of “angel meetings” that we need to look for the angels among us and BECOME the angels among us.

You see, while this time we are in seems so dark, America and our world has faced darkness much greater than this before. We have seen the worst of humanity and risen from the ashes. In each of these dark times, HOPE comes through us…through angels known and unknown who provide the light. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, and leader, is an example of the power of angels. He describes in Night how people made a difference in his darkest hour and he found hope. Watch this video that speaks to light right now in our world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keLT6bp7wok

Recently, I had someone who I have never met in person, advocate for me. This person went above and beyond to tell me that I had value and importance and he DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ME. I realized that he was an angel in my life…a bringer of hope…and he may never even know it.

On social media recently, a post was shared by a woman in deep despair over the state of our nation. She asked how she could keep hope up in the face of the tidal wave negativity, arguing, and lack of basic human values. I responded and in the course of answering, a story of my grandmother emerged surprising me with its lesson.

My grandmother, Grace, was the most remarkable human I have ever met. Kind, hilarious, smart, and someone who rose beyond her times with no explanation as to why. Born the daughter of a wealthy rice farmer on the bayous of Louisiana in turn of the century America, she was a product of a segregated and highly racist time. Over and over, Grace, defied this upbringing to reach out to others and treat each person as a child of God. In the early 1970’s, in rural Arkansas, Grace was the local Methodist minister’s wife. She discovered that a family from Vietnam, refugees of the war, had moved into their tiny town. They were not welcomed. Except by Grace…who in her country folk, no nonsense way, took them in as her “family” and did all she knew how to do to help them survive and thrive. Our family knows this story and Lam’s family knows this story…but this tale is not in any history book or known and YET…she was an angel for that family and an example for her own. The world was BETTER because of her actions and kindness.

This is the embodiment of hope in times of darkness. Can you imagine the fear and isolation this family felt fleeing their home in danger of death to land in a foreign world where they were not wanted? My grandmother must have seemed like a little bright spot of hope in the darkest night.

So now the question becomes, are you willing to be an angel for someone else?

Years ago, I became obsessed with an author, Robert Fulghum, who had written a bestseller called All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten (which is still a phenomenal book and would be a powerful read in these times). In one of his other books, It was on fire when I lay down on it he wrote a story about the meaning of life that forever altered the course of my life. Here is an excerpt from http://hackingchristianity.net/2013/07/the-meaning-of-life.html

A story is told by Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, about a seminar he once attended in Greece.

On the last day of the conference, the discussion leader walked over to the bright light of an open window and looked out. Then he asked if there were any questions.

Fulghum laughingly asked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave. However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded “I will answer your question.”

He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he explained:

When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round.

I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game.

As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – be it truth or understanding or knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the dark places of human hearts – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Right now…we must reflect the light. We must do our part to reflect that light into the darkest corners of our world. So, I leave you with 3 thoughts:

1. Are your actions reflecting light and bringing hope?

2. Are you looking for the angels around you with the same focus as you look for the darkness?

3. Are you being an angel in your world?

All of us…all of us…need to make this time about spreading light. You’ve got a job to do…so strap on your wings.

Character Education, Self Care, Wellness

The price of goodness

A friend of mine just tried acupuncture and it led to a group conversation about the practice. Acupuncture and eastern medicine is based on the concept of balance – balancing hot and cold, yin and yang, strong and weak. We discussed the science behind this concept and my friend said “Science is all about balance.” You know Newton’s law number….ummmm….anyways…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In these tumultuous times and in LIFE, there is always a result or consequence to our actions. This is a message I seek to teach my own children and my students while desperately trying to remember it for myself. You know, the whole do as I say not as I always do concept!

Sometimes is seems that in spite of our goal to put goodness into the world, evil/negativity/bad wins. It seems that our leaders, people without good intent, selfishness rules the day. That can be disheartening and demoralizing. It can lead us to want to give up and not pay the price of goodness. You see, goodness, doing what is right… costs us. How junky is that?

What is the cost of goodness? Well it depends on the act of goodness. We wear a mask in public – it can embarrass us, frustrate us, make us feel trapped, make us feel like we can’t breathe, or that we just don’t want to breathe our own stinky coffee breath. Not a huge price to pay particularly. Click here for more details on the importance of wearing masks. We can stand up to injustice – it can cost us friends, family, jobs, and more. A much heavier price to pay. On the flip side, not demonstrating goodness has a cost. We refuse to learn from somebody else’s perspective and stick to our own point of view – it can cause friendship/family loss, anger, resentment, and isolation. So – it can seem like there isn’t any way to win. Why is there a cost to goodness that can be equivalent to the cost of not doing what is kind, admirable, loving, selfless, thoughtful, or noble?

Why? Because everything in nature, science, faith – seeks balance. Newton was right…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But Newton didn’t take that concept far enough with this one principle. You see each time there is an action – it MOVES the opposite and equal reaction somewhere. If I am moving a rock up a mountain – every time I push…gravity pushes back. But as I keep PUSHING – I inch my way up the mountain…defeating gravity ultimately by reaching the top.

Goodness is like this – there is always a force pushing against our attempts at goodness in the world. Those forces can wear us down if we do not acknowledge the cost, accept the cost, and continue to promote goodness IN SPITE OF THE COST. The only way you get to the top of the mountain, is by continuing uphill AGAINST the pull. Against the cost…

So, what does this have to do with educators? With us as people? Well – I think it comes down to the willingness to pay the price of goodness to move ourselves, our students, our families, and our world forward. Educators have this pivotal role in teaching children, tomorrow’s leaders, about the COST of goodness. It is naive to think telling a child “Be good!” solves the problems in their world. Well – what happens when I am nice to the unpopular kid and then I become unpopular (cost)? What happens when I tell the truth about doing the wrong thing and get a consequence for that (cost)? What happens when I give it 100% and still fail the test (cost)?

We must educate our youth on the price of goodness so that they might be willing to PAY THE COST. That they might have the will, the desire, the motivation, the perseverance, to KEEP GOING in the face of adversity based on their innate desire to do good in the world. Some kids enter our rooms already defeated by the harsh worlds they live in and we have to teach them goodness is worth the price. Some kids enter our rooms unsure of what it looks like to find their innate goodness and we must educate them on the cost and rewards of living up to their goodness potential. Some kids enter our rooms aware of the cost and ready, willing, and able to pay it and we must foster a community that celebrates that spirit.

The only way we can do that is by choosing to inject goodness into every action small and large in our world. To make goodness our guiding principle in every action we take. To use goodness to counteract or fix our own human flaws and foibles. To wield goodness as the weapon that can help move us to a better place.

Here are some guiding principles that may help us on our journey:

  1. Seek to understand and to learn.
  2. Think of others before ourselves.
  3. Be resilient and courageous.
  4. Use your words intentionally and thoughtfully.
  5. Stay curious.

I get so tired of paying the price for the times I purposefully seek to do what is right. It hurts, wears me down, and makes me want to stop. I get it…that price…too high at times. I am reminding myself and all of us as educators, parents, teachers, and members of the human family to find a little more change in your pockets to pay the price of goodness. Because ultimately, the reward is looking out from the top of the mountain at the beauty we have helped create with our efforts.

written with contribution from Alexandra Keilen, @aktechteacher

Books, Character Education, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Leadership, Reading, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

I don’t know what to say…

Anybody who knows me personally, knows this is an extremely rare phrase to come out of my mouth. Generally, I always know what to say, or think I do, or just say something regardless… I am a talker!

Right now though, I find myself not knowing what to say. I don’t know what to say to my own children, my family, my students, my friends and co-workers, my friends on social media, and to myself. We are in such unprecedented times. Right now – we are experiencing a global health pandemic on a scale I have never seen in my lifetime. Right now – America is the most divided, bitter, and angry nation I have ever known. Right now – the legacy of racism in America continues to rear its ugly head forcing all of us to determine what we will do to change this crisis. Right now – we see corruption, dishonesty, and plain unkindness as the norm…just another day at the office.

I don’t know what to say in response to all of this. So, I try to share my thoughts with meaningful social media posts that focus on spreading honesty and goodness. I try to teach my children and my students the value of each and every human being regardless of color, creed, background, or any other unique attribute. I try to live a life where my actions match my faith and values. But…sometimes it all seems woefully inadequate, like I am a tiny pebble in a giant pond.

Then, I remember… I AM a tiny pebble in a giant pond. That is what I need to say… Let me explain.

One of my favorite read aloud books is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. The book is about how every thing we do creates ripples out into the world. Unkindness, denial, participation in the bitterness they spread like ripples in a pond. But kindness, love, care, empathy, courage, and hope spread too. Here is a video of the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNgYno4W14

At the start of every year, I read this book to my class and we discuss the way we treat each other. They are always horrified that the story doesn’t have a happy ending…that it doesn’t end well. I explain that too often, our unkindness, simply can’t be taken back. Words said cannot be unsaid. Mean actions cannot be taken back. But, we can learn from them…we can do better.

So, here is what I want to say that I hope will ripple out into the world. Our actions matter. We are part of a global community of humans. We are part of a fabric woven together and our responsibility is to each other.

As educators, we have a pivotal role in dropping little pebbles and trying to get our students to keep spreading the ripples. Whether we are in distance learning, in a classroom, or some other version of school we are unable to imagine right now, we have to spread what is good. So focus your teaching beyond your subject onto these things:

  • Being good human beings.
  • Creating curious and open minded students of life
  • Fostering a sense of Ubuntu (I am because you are).
  • Teaching history – where we have come from, the mistakes that have been made, and the lessons that can be learned.
  • Your role in your family, community, nation, and world – they must be active participants in making the world better.
  • The values of disagreeing and challenging each other with RESPECT while continuing to learn from each other.

So, in these times that seem overwhelming, and you just don’t know what to say that could make any of it better… remember the ripple you can make by your actions both positive and negative. I wish I had better words to say to people about these horrible situations we find our nation in. I wish I knew the right thing to say, but I don’t. So, I am going to focus on saying things and THINKing. This poster is in many classrooms, but really needs to be said right now in today’s world. Before I speak… is what I am saying true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind. If we all THINK – we will send out some pretty powerful ripples. That is the best thing we can say when we don’t know what to say.

Character Education, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

The Kindness Battle

I just keep hearing a voice inside my head saying “It’s all about the kindness.” Now, this may be a sign I’ve been in quarantine too long since I am hearing voices! OR, it may be the voice of something higher than me reminding me there is a battle happening right now and kindness is the weapon. That is an odd way to refer to kindness, as a weapon. It is the antithesis of the very meaning of the word. Let me explain.

On the news right now we are bombarded by images and sounds of really unkind and frankly, scary people in leadership, in our communities, in our world.

Americans turning on each other because one man fans the flames of hate and discord hiding behind a mask of righteousness while serving only himself.

On social media, it is too easy to participate in the behind the screen bravery that allows us to be unkind.

With our education leaders, administrators, parents, co-workers, and even students, we are hearing negative, critical voices saying that what we are doing is not enough, not correct, can’t continue, not effective.

Within our own families and the families of our students, we know there is negativity that comes from the endless cycle of “togetherness” where siblings, couples, parents are all tired of each other.

It is simply too easy to be unkind and to allow the unkindness to cover us like a dark blanket.

Then…I see tiny points of light..of kindness poking through.

The greatest basketball player in the world weeping when shown an image of his teammates saying he was not kind, although effective. Kindness made a difference and broke the heart of a champion. https://twitter.com/i/status/1259664534471614466

A bored actor creates a simple, homemade fake news program to highlight Some Good News, and it becomes an international symbol of all that is right in the world. https://www.facebook.com/SomeGoodNewsSGN/

A child writes a letter to a teacher years down the road and says I am here..graduating…because of you. Thank you.

A dad builds his daughter a graduation stage, or takes her to prom, or to the daddy/daughter dance. https://abcn.ws/2Tje6ip

A mom dances a tiktok with her teenage son, or allows her kids to cover her in makeup, or laughs hysterically at the absurdity of life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygdB-ZE0daY

When we look for them, the images of kindness battling darkness are literally everywhere. When we add to the light, as a community of HUMANS, the light ALWAYS WINS.

As an educator, I have one fundamental task. To prepare the children in front of me to become the leaders, thinkers, innovators, and workers of the future.

Whether I am behind a computer screen, face to face, or in some other, not yet thought of way, in my role as a teacher, I MUST teach my students to wield kindness as a weapon.

I must model kindness as a weapon in the way I treat my family, my co-workers, my administrators, the parents, my community, and my world.

I must face each daunting what if of this time with the answer of “What if…I offer kindness in response?”

I don’t know about you, but wielding kindness as a weapon is exhausting.

My administrators don’t value me….respond with kindness.

A parent bashes me…respond with kindness.

A student mistreats me or his peers…respond with kindness.

A person on social media rants against me…respond with kindness.

I don’t know whether to wear a mask or return to work or stay home…respond with kindness.

I am scared for my future and want to fight for only myself and my family…respond with kindness.

Can you see how challenging kindness as a weapon is? Can you see the cost it takes to put away our fear, resentment, greed, guilt, anger, and hatred to find a way to make kindness my weapon in every moment and in every situation?

So – I call upon us, the educators, to step into the light and be the leaders. If we are to have a role in changing the world from the darkness, negativity, and anger…it will literally depend on us teaching OUR STUDENTS, so that they can teach others…Kindness is your weapon. Now – go and use it!

Here are some resources on kindness if you need a boost on where, how, or why to begin. Let’s start a kindness revolution!

Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Intervention, Self Care, Wellness

Just for Today

I had a really bad couple of days and hit the wall yesterday. Being a teacher, parent, wife, daughter, person..is sometimes just hard. Now, more than ever in this new world of distance learning, it can feel utterly overwhelming. But, after several important things happened, I woke up today ready to start again. I have often described myself as one of those old time punching bags (the blow up kind with the weight in the bottom). You can knock me down, but I will always get back up. This is called RESILIENCE. Resilience has been studied by many people and consistently is found as the game changer for children living in trauma. Resilience can be an innate quality (that survivor instinct) or developed with the support of at least one loving adult. This skill is the most essential one in many settings. Here is a great article from heysigmund.com https://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

In times of trauma, overcoming childhood challenges and difficulty, struggles as an educator in a system and with leaders who do not value you, and in a time like this; resilience is a required quality. It is especially needed in this time of global trauma where humans are not always showing their best qualities, particularly here in our divided nation.

Before distance learning, I always felt the hardest months for a teacher were December and May. May is living up to its reputation. I think that administrators are stressed trying to keep things moving forward when they don’t know how. Teachers and support staff are worried about what is next and how to make it work. Parents and Students are trying to come to terms with what an end of a school year looks like without the traditions, events, classroom clean up, and parties. There is a lot to knock us down and our resilience is what matters most. There are two things that have recently been shared on my social media, that to me are the essence of resilience. I have put one at the top and one at the bottom. The basic concept is simple the “Just keep swimming” motto of Dory or the “Put one foot in front of the other” line of the song. Resilience happens in that magical moment when you just can’t keep going on. It is too much. Then, you find the strength to stand back up and take one step. We watched “The Princess Bride” that is now on Disney+ and is one of the best movies ever made (I will take no arguments on this!) This moment is embodied in this scene: https://youtu.be/I73sP93-0xA

Here we are and now more than ever we need to find our own resilience, help each other find resilience, and as educators and parents face the monumental task of providing our children with one loving adult that can be the voice that tells them to just keep swimming. So, once again, how do we find and support resilience?

  1. Be kind – I keep saying it, but kindness is like a magical cure all. Check out this video on the science of kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOy_FRMprfo
  2. Foster friendships and relationships – Loneliness and isolation are the ultimate destruction of our resilience. My friends and family stepped into the gap during my recent bad days and whispered in my ear “you got this”. We need to all provide each other in big and small ways with that voice that encourages resilience. With our students, we need to be SO intentional in reaching out to our most vulnerable and providing a rock for them to cling to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXAg5XdK8ac&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=5
  3. Allow yourself to wallow – My country grandmother used to say “Sometimes, you just need a good wallow.” Now – for you non-country folks – wallowing is what pigs do in the mud. Just roll around in it and let it cover them in the mess. We MUST acknowledge our fears, pain, sadnesses, and negative feelings in order to release them. This can involve crying, journaling, eating brownies…whatever lets you FEEL the negative so you can let it go. So, occasionally, when it all gets to much, have a good wallow…then pick yourself back up.
  4. The 5 year rule – My mom often says to me “Will this still matter to you in 5 years?” Taking problems that seem to be mountains and deciding if they really are mountains or just little hills that I can get over, fosters resilience. MOST things…end up being hills (or sometimes nothing at all – just my imagined mountains)…so in 5 years, if this will not make a difference in my life, release it and move forward.
  5. Serve others – At the end of the day, there is no greater way to spark your own resilience than by lending a hand to another. Stepping outside of our own struggles and helping another can remind us of all we have to be grateful for.

So – read the prayer at the top out loud to yourself daily. Follow the steps on the quote at the bottom and foster resilience in yourself, your friends and family, and your students.

Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

One Big Rock

Now that most states in the U.S. have moved to distance learning for the remainder of the school year, there is a weariness that has settled in for all involved. I noticed it in my own children, my students, and myself. The initial rush of newness and excitement is gone, replaced by the drudgery of this new system. I feel a little like the stage of friendship after camp. You leave camp ready to be friends forever. The first months are full of letters, texts, emails, and I miss you moments. As time goes on, things begin to fade away, memories become hazy, and the best of intentions do not always keep you connected the way face to face time did.

I found myself really going inward this past week and trying to determine what should this world look like for me as a parent, as an educator, for my children, and for my students. I spent a few days “shut off” and not really doing much except thinking. (okay – in this house with 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 hamster, 2 teenage boys, one 8 year old girl, 1 husband, my parents and in-laws, 40 students, my friends…I was as shut off as I could manage.) During this time of reflection and soul searching, I saw this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqGRnlXplx0 Suddenly, it clicked that right now HAS to be about the big rocks. Big Rocks are the metaphor for the most important components of our lives. The ones that our energy, attention, and care should be directed towards. The pebbles, the sand, and even the Cerveza’s of this metaphor MUST fade away to an extent during this time of unprecedented crisis and trauma. The shock I found as I sat down to reflect on what the big rocks were for me is that, right now, there is only ONE big rock as an educator, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Just one big rock that DEMANDS our attention – here is how I am facing this rock.

THE ONE BIG ROCK Health – Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health of myself, my family, my friends, AND my students has to be the first priority.

It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in living color.

If we are not physiologically safe and feel emotionally secure – learning and teaching will NOT happen regardless of efforts. So – what are you doing to ensure this health and well being?

  1. Take care of your physiological needs – Financial needs, food, shelter, health needs, etc. have to be addressed. You will not be able to help anyone else before you ensure that you have that bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy met for yourself. So – take the time to file paperwork, order food, pay your bills, do a medical visit virtually with your doctor, keep your prescriptions refilled, etc.
  2. Building in time to ensure your own well being. Recent discussion among mental health professionals is that this time will be an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) for all of our kids to some extent. It is the same for us as adults. This IS, by its nature, a traumatic event. You must take care of yourself with nature, exercise, diet, meditation/prayer, joy and fun filled activities, spending time electronically or in person with those you love who support you, and giving yourself TIME!
  3. Be aware of your own children and family and put their needs ABOVE your students! I realized that so much of my early attention was put towards my students, particularly those most as risk. My own children NEED a present, loving parent to help them through these challenging times – THE WAY OUR STUDENTS NEED ONE. I am putting on my “teacher” hat with my own children, my “co-worker” hat with my husband, my parents and in-laws to find ways to listen and look for how their emotional needs are being met just like I do at school.
  4. Cognitive Re-framing – this big fancy phrase means changing your thinking. It is so important right now to reflect on what IS good, what IS right, what IS possible vs. staying in the negative. One week, I watched a little too much of the news and briefings and read too much on twitter for a few days until my husband and friend intervened and said ENOUGH. There is a fine line between being educated and informed and stressing yourself out. So – every day, choose explicitly to focus on gratitude, positive aspects of this terrible time, and ways you can solve problems. I like to keep my energy on WHAT I CAN DO NOT WHAT I CAN’T!
  5. Nearpod – Nearpod is my favorite educator tool particularly for distance learning. Set up a free account TODAY! You can have a zoom AND get feedback from all of your students. They have an entire set of FREE nearpods focusing on SEL for all age levels tied to Covid 19. Here is one I just did with my students that I thought was a great discussion starter. https://share.nearpod.com/lHAm7NQD15
  6. Weekly Reflections – This tool, that I have always used, is ideal in distance learning because every week, I can get feedback from my students on what is happening for them and how I can support. This information has become even more critical in distance learning. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  7. Thinking Creatively for the hardest to reach – We all have students who are really struggling during this time. Start to look for ways to keep connection. Individual or small group zoom sessions, phone sessions, using google classroom or microsoft teams “chat” features to send private messages, notes or letters sent to their mailbox, using volunteers to help tutor or connect, a “care” package of school supplies and materials delivered to their doorstep, using a simple video app like flipgrid to send messages back and forth (You can set up a flipgrid code for you and one student. Videos can be left there by both you and the student. Any device (even a cellphone) that has a way to connect to the internet can have the student press one button to send/receive a video.) Think about the tools that the student has access to that you can use to make connection.

The biggest shock of this time for me is realizing how essential the ONE BIG ROCK is. We want to make sure students are learning, our families are happy, we keep up some semblance of “normal”, we get some big projects done at home, and so many other things that we think are important. The reality is right now, in this time of trauma, we have just one big rock that requires our undivided attention – keeping ourselves, our families, our students, and our world healthy and safe. Everything else will happen in the best way it can given the circumstances if we make this our priority. So, give yourself permission to put your energy to this one big rock and stop worrying about the pebbles and sand. You might even find you have a little time left for a beer!

Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

Spring Break STAYcation!

As educators AND parents, we are well aware of how Spring Break seems to be so exciting for everyone.  However, in these unprecedented times, we have cancelled trips, lots of down time, and LOTS of family time affecting Spring Break 2020.  So – join in the 2020 Spring Break STAYCATION plan! 7 days of fun to look forward to – do all of it, some of it, or none of it! Just know – we can make this FUN! 

Day 1 – Virtual Easter Block Party – Today, gather rocks of all sizes and paint.  Paint rocks to look like Easter Eggs. Notify your neighborhood via text, email, or an app like NextDoor of the plan.  Every family places one Easter Egg for each member of the family around the neighborhood on a walk. Families can seek out as many Easter Egg rocks as possible and take pictures of them.  You can share these on the app, social media, or via text/email. Check out a fun “EGG” menu for the day: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing

Supplies Needed – Rocks, paint, paintbrushes, water, smocks/old shirts, newspaper to paint on, device that takes pictures.  Some neighborhoods are decorating large paper eggs as an alternative. Each family decorates 1-2 eggs with crayons/markers, then displays them on their house to be found and counted. You can make some fancy paper Easter Eggs using this resource: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Xel6JHxpBalJLEkK-DaU_7dtRNsvg4eo/view

Day 2 – Camp Out and Stargazing- Plan a family camping adventure.  Several ways to do this:

Option 1 – Pitch your tent in the backyard, get a fire pit going (here is a safe way to create one https://achievingadventure.com/blogs/2017/11/06/building-fire-no-injuries/), Get out the flashlights, sleeping bags, lanterns, bug spray, etc.  Set up some chairs, roast some marshmallows, sing songs, play games (cornhole, checkers, horseshoes, bocce ball, etc.) and enjoy the night sky.  Use a telescope if you have one or an app on your phone to help you find constellations. (https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/stargazing-apps/   ) Check out the menu you can use: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing

Option 2 – Pitch your tent or make a fort in your living room.  Watch this great stargazing video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-hAc3n5ROw or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UU61eAUzxE , this sing along camp songs video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_BMzqwSdW8&list=PLzbFVd2WNPybpfMKM1d9t3wUuWik_V79D , make toaster s’mores https://www.myfoodandfamily.com/recipe/125674/smores-your-way , and eat on a blanket on the floor picnic style. 

Day 3- Community Service Day – Today, focus on how you can help other people.  Take sidewalk chalk on your daily walk and write inspirational messages for neighbors, create a happy, fun video and share it with family/friends/neighbors who might be alone and lonely, or find a way to virtually support an organization.  Here is a list of great ideas:

  1. Create thank you letters to essential workers in your area. Don’t forget the grocery store workers who are on the front lines!
  2. Create masks for others and donate.
  3. Create a fun obstacle course for neighborhood kids on the sidewalk or street for families to enjoy: Option 1 and Option 2 
  4. Create a Kindness Poster and post on Social Media and in your neighborhood: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Tr3KV6UW2iff-UyA6bBaUqFnjhQungxD/view

Here are even more great ideas- https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/living/story/virtual-volunteering-ways-volunteer-home-time-coronavirus-69741410 and https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/news/video/ways-virtual-volunteer-fight-covid-19-69747040 

Day 4 – Creativity Lab Day – Ask every member of your family to take a set amount of time (we suggest a minimum of 2 hours).  They must separate to a room in the house or place in the house BY THEMSELVES. If you have young children, plan this during nap time to allow for older family members to participate.  Every person must create something that they will share with the rest of the family. It can be music, art, dance, STEM activities, Legos, Maker’s Space type items, or basically anything you can think of.  Here are some websites with inspiration: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys.html  and  https://www.brilliantlabs.ca/makerfun There are 2 goals to this day – ONE…give everybody some alone time.  TWO…allow for creativity. At the end, you have a great opportunity to share your creations.  Take pictures and/or videos and share them with family and friends to share in the joy OR have family in different houses all do the creativity lab simultaneously.  Then, you can video chat and share the projects across houses (a great way to include older family members). 

Day 5 – Specials / Field Day – Most public schools have students take “special area” classes.  These include Music, P.E., Art, STEAM, Technology, Language classes, Band, or Drama. Many public schools have sent out information from these special area teachers that you can use throughout the day.  Create a schedule and have everybody rotate through activities! Here are 2 great sources of activities for different Specials Area Classes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Q6XX0ehjq72C-aiOq49Yn1hqNdxBvDBhVyf-iIpoHxM/edit?usp=sharing

or https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gWI6At1txRa_A6YBxFoA-2aVpB5dJCdv/view?usp=sharing

For a variation try At-Home Field Day Ideas: https://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/8129-11-favorite-field-day-games

or here are some “Field Day” Digital Breakouts: 

1) https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/field-day-funnanigans-136

2) https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/field-day-fun-78

Day 6 – Scavenger Hunt Day – Make up your own scavenger hunt or use one of these various ideas and make a day full of scavenger hunts.  You can offer prizes like candy, money, or other small items to make the competition fun! You could include family members and friends with video chatting.  You could make videos of the scavenger hunt or take photos of each item found.  https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/g32050844/scavenger-hunt-ideas-for-kids/ or https://lezgetreal.com/scavenger-hunt-ideas/

If you want some digital versions to challenge your brain, try some Digital Escape Rooms like this Mindfulness and Gratitude Free Digital Breakout: https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/mindfulness-344039

Day 7 – Hawaiian Water Vacation – It’s time to rest up!  Head to Hawaii and bust out the water toys. Here are Hawaiian crafts https://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/hawaiincraftsideasactivitieskids.html, games https://www.thespruce.com/kids-hawaiian-luau-party-games-2104661, decorations https://hoosierhomemade.com/luau-party-ideas/ , music https://www.polynesia.com/what-to-play, and food https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing you can do.  Bring out the sprinkler, pool, splash pad, sponges and buckets, hose, water balloons, whatever you can find to splash around.  Set up an outdoor relaxing water play time complete with any Hawaiian components from above! Relax and enjoy the sunshine! 

We hope these ideas have helped you plan the ultimate fun filled STAYCATION!  We know that it can be hard to stay at home without the routine of distance learning, so find a way to make this Spring Break memorable right from your living room!  We hope you will share your videos and pictures on Whatever is Admirable as we post our events each day!

co-written by Alexandria Keilen @aktechteacher

Distance Learning, Education, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

Weird…I feel weird…

As I sit here on my back porch listening to the birds chirp, in the early morning light…I feel utterly content. Then…it all rushes in: what is happening to our world, our schools, and in our lives. I realize that this dichotomy makes me feel weird, strange, unsettled, and discombobulated. I watch my children who approach each day with their teenage attitude and little girl enthusiasm have moments where I can see how weird they feel right now. The world has become unfamiliar to all of us and yet utterly recognizable all at the same time.

Educators and parents face the most challenging of this global sense of off kilter because we feel the responsibility to step into the discomfort and make sure our children feel as safe and comfortable as possible during these unprecedented times. I wrote of my pride in my fellow teachers as we all gave 200% to making school happen wherever a child is. But now, that systems are in place and kinks are mostly worked out, the weirdness has settled in.

Here we are with the weight of this weirdness on our shoulders trying desperately to make sense of the madness for ourselves, our families, and out students. How can we do this effectively? Well…I don’t really know! But, I know what has worked, so far, for me. Here is my list – share a comment of what has helped you through the strangeness

  1. Routine and Schedule – Everybody is different when it comes to how structured they want to be. My husband despises a schedule and wants to just do it at his own pace, in his own time, in his own way (much to my annoyance). For me, having a routine and schedule makes everything more manageable.
  2. Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t – I have always felt that anytime my focus is on what is wrong, what I am unable to fix, what is out of my control…I don’t do well. So instead, I am getting creative – Zoom Cocktail and birthday parties, Virtual Spring Break activities, projects that I can complete, etc. As an educator, what can I do to teach my kiddos effectively using the tools I have.
  3. Stay Healthy – I am trying to exercise daily, get outside regularly, eat reasonably healthy, meditate and pray, journal, regulate my working hours, and focus on having enjoyable/fun things to do each day.
  4. Reach out to people – I actually think I am talking to my family and friends MORE than I did before this all began. Use the really amazing tools available today to make sure I keep in contact with people and connect.
  5. Think of others – For me, it is much less challenging to go through this if I focus on people who have much less than I do, are working harder or with more danger, or lonely populations. I loved watching things like Matthew McConnaghey play virtual zoom bingo with a local nursing home https://twitter.com/i/events/1247277604656369667?fbclid=IwAR05Ibw8jnJBdgTM9xg1T63q-0bAwup33-7WEJWC2qNsykY8tk4kvMGMr2Y and John Krasinski using his celebrity to share “Some Good News” while making good news happen for people. https://www.facebook.com/SomeGoodNewsSGN/ Consciously, find ways to help others and you will feel better.
  6. Be Kind – If you are on any social media or watching the daily news, we have a lot of really angry people who are lashing out via social media. I have always told my students it is much easier to be mean from behind a screen where you don’t have to look someone in the eye. Counter unkindness with kindness. Do not engage in bashing and negativity. Yes, there are parents out there saying horrible things about teachers right now. Yes, there are people with differing political views screaming horrible things at each other. Yes, there is a mean person who will say something no matter what the situation. But each one of us has the power to respond to this with love, kindness, or simply refusing to participate. My husband always says “Your character shines through.” So, to the teacher bashers out there – let them see your character shine through and THAT will be the best response you can give.

NOW – speaking of weird…. I had a virtual cocktail party (so fun!) and drank a glass of champagne from a full bottle left over from some holiday. Well…now I had an opened, mostly full bottle of champagne. I couldn’t bear to just dump it out the next morning…so I thought? Can you make bread out of this? Weirdly, you can! Here’s my recipe:

Champagne Bread –

3 c. All purpose Flour

4 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. sugar

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

12 oz. champagne, room temperature

2 Tbsp. butter melted

1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tsp. sugar for topping

  1. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a stand mixer or a mixing bowl and lightly mix together.
  2. Add in the melted butter and champagne and mix together until a solid ball that pulls away from the side of the mixer.
  3. Put the batter into a loaf pan and shape to the pan.
  4. Brush the top of the loaf with melted butter.
  5. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar onto top. (An alternate would be garlic, everything bagel spice mix, etc.)

This makes a dense loaf of bread that has a slightly sour flavor. You can use this for toast, french toast, or to make into croutons. Enjoy this weird recipe!

Distance Learning, Education, Leadership, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

The Worth of a Teacher

In these unprecedented times, there are moments over and over that make me unbelievably proud to be part of the tribe of teachers. I have watched my friends and colleagues wholeheartedly finding ways to reach our students, comfort them, encourage them, and yes, still continue to educate them. I have seen my daughter’s face as her teacher drove through on a “We miss you car parade” and when she dropped off a goodie bag in our mailbox of activities for the week. (fully sanitized). I have seen my teenage sons leave a zoom conference with their teachers with a big smile on their face. Teachers are part of this ESSENTIAL group of caregivers that while the world shuts down continue to do their job against all odds.

I have also watched as educators around my state and the country suffer under the unreasonable, confusing, and often out of touch demands from administrators, districts, and state level school boards and education officials. I have listened while friends cry trying to manage a whole new world of teaching, while helping their own families and children. I have seen where debates from parents on social media erupt into a “the way this teacher is doing this is so wrong…” type of conversation. I have watched as politicians decide how I will teach, when I will teach, and when I will have to “make up” the time lost. I am sharing some sage advice from Brad Johnson, author of Putting Teachers First.

Ask any educator that you know personally and he/she will tell you that the workload right now is much higher. Teachers are used to the routine of being in the building and are able to pull out their “tried and true” lesson plans crafted previously.  There are no “tried and true” lessons already created in case school is out for over a month. So teachers are creating all of their lessons from scratch and handing them over to a “substitute teacher.” Administrators are requiring online PD, frequent online staff/grade level meetings, some are requiring online tools that the teachers have never used before and must teach themselves. During all this, teachers are being asked questions by their students and parents. Within a classroom, these quick exchanges are effortless to clarify an assignment. By being virtual questions via email, it becomes more complicated and time-consuming to respond. Don’t get me wrong, we want to stay in touch, clarify our instructions, and create the best lessons possible. Giving our best to everything is part of most teachers, so we are not on an early summer break. We are truly working harder than we ever have. 

It all leads me to ask the question “What is the worth of teachers?”. What value do we have, bring, and offer to our administrators, schools, districts, communities and states? What are our administrators, schools, districts, communities and states willing to do to support OUR needs? So here are some questions we need to consider when we look at the worth of our educators.

  1. What should we expect of our teachers while they serve their own families and children during this time?
  2. How can we ask our educators what they need to be successful in this difficult time and then provide it to them remotely?
  3. What can a parent do to support what their child’s teacher needs to continue educating their children?
  4. What demands should be made of teachers to “make up” lost instructional time? Our state is considering extending the school year in the summer or returning early. Most teachers will tell you they are working harder in distance learning than they ever have. Educators should have this worked counted and valued – not be expected to “make it up”.
  5. What can administrators and school districts do to say to teachers what do you need to be successful right now? What can I take off your plate? What boundaries or expectations can I help you put into place to make this work?

I think about the post I wrote about the promises I made to parents. https://authenticteaching.blog/2020/01/27/i-promise/ I want you to know those promises are all still true and even more so. I wake up worrying about my “kids”, spend all day trying to support them, and go to bed worrying about them. I am spending more time supporting, encouraging, and helping my co-workers and friends than ever before and they are doing the same for me. As there is a lot of noise from lots of people outside the teacher tribe discussing my worth, I want to stand up and loudly proclaim

“TEACHERS ARE WORTH AS MUCH AS ANY OTHER ESSENTIAL WORKER”. We do not want more, but we are tired of accepting less. Value us as the loving, dedicated, and committed professionals we are. We want you – administrators, schools, districts, communities, and state officials – to wake up worrying a little about us, spend the day trying to support us, and go to bed worrying about us and all of the other essential workers keeping America going through this crisis. We value you….please value us. co-written by Alexandra Keilen @aktechteacher

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Teamwork

Circle of Control

WOW! These are historic and unprecedented times. My friends and I joked we felt like we were in the beginning scenes of a major Hollywood pandemic blockbuster. Sadly, we are not in a movie. This can bring feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, and fear. As educators, we worry about our own families AND our kids that we have just sent home for an undisclosed amount of time if your school has closed. So – I go back to a lesson learned from the Leader in Me, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Franklin Covey. This concept is the idea that some things are in our control and that is where our power is. Our energy spent worrying about the things outside of our control ultimately harm us rather than help us. So – here are some tips to helping you take control for yourself, your family, and your students in distance learning as we go through these uncharted waters together.

  • Alexandra Keilen, Technology Facilitator and Super Friend, helped me create this one stop shopping resource for all of the supports in place for educators, families, and students during this time. Click here to get information which we will continue to update as we find information. bit.ly/remotelearn
  • Make a schedule – Endless days of rest, relaxation, and hanging out sound great in theory…but after a short patch these become tedious and boring. Set some work hours, play hours, rest hours, etc. Here is a great sample schedule: undefined
  • Zoom to keep in contact – My daughter had an amazing playdate yesterday with a friend and they were in TWO DIFFERENT HOUSES! Zoom is a free video conferencing app that you can download from the play store or the apple store.  To create an account, all you need is a working email. You can set up a sign up genius and do individual zoom teaching or conferences with students or parents. (This would be great for students with IEP, 504 Plans, or LEP Plans) You can do whole class daily live lessons at a scheduled time. You can meet remotely with your PLC or team of educators to figure out next ideas or steps. You can use it to set up times with your family and friends to “hang out”. Here is a great starter video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ik5o6WptX0 
  • Use tools like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to provide students with assignments, materials, or resources – We are so fortunate to live in a world with these technology resources. For our students without internet access or appropriate devices – Spectrum and Comcast are both providing free internet service for families simply by calling their number. Encourage families to consider using an old cell phone that can attach to the wi-fi, tablets, etc. to have students work. For our most at-risk/needy students, look for ways to mail information or drop it off if there is little chance they will get any kind of internet support.
  • Finally, take care of yourself, your family, and your community. We have all heard and seen the stories of people ripping toilet paper out of each other’s hands or mistreating each other as fear sets in. What has NOT been as widely shared is the community of people everywhere that are reaching out to each other, providing services for the community, helping a neighbor, and so much more. If we lead as educators in modeling kindness, respect, and treating our fellow humans with love…we will all come out of this time with a renewed sense of who we are as part of the human family!