Jackson’s Blogging Adventure is a Joy for His Mom

With great pleasure, I’d like to share what Jackson, my senior-in-high-school son, has been doing. Jackson blogs — a lot.

I’m proud of him — not only because he’s blogging for Huffington Post Teen, but because he is actively seeking who he is as a writer and thinker. I am super grateful for all who have embraced him and encouraged him. I’m struck by the fact that Jackson fits perfectly in this digital age. I can’t wait to see how he will partner with today’s social and technological world to move forward with his dreams for himself and how he hopes to contribute to his world.

I’m enjoying his blogging adventure, maybe even more than he is. Good stuff.

Here’s his most recent post:

 

I Fought a Rock and the Rock Won

I fought a rock and the rock won.

Who steps on a small rock — actually, it was more of a large pebble — and breaks her foot? Well, that would be me. Early last week I was doing what everyone does. I was walking to my car while checking messages on my phone. I don’t know if I was distracted or if I need remedial walking lessons. All I know is that when the pebble popped out into my path, I turned my left ankle toward the inside so much that I stretched the dickens out of my foot that it caused it to break. It was a clean break. My doc says this is great — I only need a boot or brace for three months!

Yeah. Really great. I didn’t set the doc straight on his misguided definition of great.

Back to the rock. When I looked at the rock after the “big fight” I was shocked at the size of the evil culprit. I’ve flossed similar sized objects from my mouth. My foot hurt so badly that I assumed Goliath might be lying nearby with a rock-shot to the head. But, no. It was the size of  nickel. Isn’t it funny how the smallest obstacles can knock us flat? I think about the other “rocks” in my life and wonder how I’m fairing with those.

Small “rocks” causing me to tumble over myself:

  1. A good book. The world can fall to ashes around me and I’d never know if I have a good book to read. This could border on obsession.
  2. Chips in the house. Dip, too. 
  3. Distractions. I’m not ADD but am easily distracted by new things, pretty things, and unusual things. As much as I love Pinterest, I’ve allowed it to grow into a boulder blocking my path and absorbing my time.
  4. Sin. The little ones chisel away at the good parts of me. Some days it’s more of a one step forward, two knocks back. Yet, if I look at my faith as a rock (and not the sin) I am very happy that the rock always seems to win. It’s all about perspective.

Life isn’t a fast-paced affair for me. I stay very busy, but I have learned to relax about my work, responsibilities, and other obligations. Yet, it looks like I’ll be slowing down a bit more for the remainder of 2013. I imagine I will do battle with a few more rocks along the way. And, if history is any indication, the rocks are likely to win. As long as my right foot stays in tact, I think I can live with that.

An Epidural of Courage

 

I’ve learned a couple of things since I last posted.

First lesson: I have more time than I realized, if it’s spent doing only what I want to do. I took my own advice. In late July I began making the time to do what was important to me. Results? Absolute bliss. Second lesson: I do not have the luxury to do it well. Unleashing a passion (when it’s not part of your day job) can create frustration. Results? Still absolute bliss.

If you’re waiting on circumstances to inspire motivation, you’re likely to remain immobile.  [Tweet this]

 

writing

What have I been doing? I’ve been writing. In late July, a story developed in my mind. Immediately, I put all of it on paper. (Well, we all think of digital devices as paper, right?) I took a stab at writing a novel last summer only to learn that an idea doesn’t get you very far. It stalled out at about 20,000 words. Luckily, this summer was different. I had a complete story in my head. Surely, I could type 75,000 words in a couple of weeks. Right?

Wrong.

What was my story anyway? Was it a short story, a novella, or a waste of my last days of summer? After I scratched it out on Scrivener (the coolest software ever), I realized it was a novel. For weeks I wrote blissfully ignorant that I was, in fact, a teacher, not a writer. Easy peasy. Until I read what I’d written.

Reading the first 15,000 words of my “novel” was like suffering with a severe case of hiccups. The story lacked interesting characters, intriguing action, and a compelling theme. So, what, if anything did I have going for me? My two must-haves gave me hope. I had a good idea. And I had the motivation to see it through.

As it turns out, that’s all I needed. Every day for the last two months I have worked on this little novel. How far am I? Well, if I don’t chuck most of it in the trash upon the “real editing” phase, I’m around 60,000 words. How many more to go? A lot. How long will it take to finish? A long, long time. Surprisingly, I’m cool with this. I’m enjoying the process more than I imagined I would.

The writing process has surprised me.

I’ve written various non-fiction pieces but I’ve never tackled anything quite like this before. Some days my fear paralyzes me, causing me to question myself. Do I know what I’m doing? Is my writing any good? Would I want to read this? Most days I’m able to push through the insecurities and continue writing. Other days I read. I read my own writing. Or I read books I love but analyze them differently. I’ve always paid attention to an author’s technique and style. I read differently when I’m trying to develop one for myself.

Writing requires an epidural of courage.  [Tweet this]

When I numb my fear, words follow. But, I also need courage when writing. When I think about what I’m really trying to say, I say less. And, I’m learning less is more. It takes courage to let go of a string of words that you love when they don’t mean what you are saying.

My next steps will require some big-girl pants. I need to finish the book then have a real editor take a look.

I may be comatose before all is said and done. In case I can’t say so for myself, let the record show that the whole process really made me blissfully happy.

Larger Than Life

Peggy Limbaugh

Sometimes I really hate the calendar. Today is definitely one of those days. It’s been three years since my mother died. Knowing it was coming, I busied myself with various tasks and distractions but somehow the calendar has managed to scream louder, pushing itself to the forefront. Time has helped and the pain from the shock of loss did subside. Yet, a different sort of discomfort has moved in and set up. It’s like not being able to take a truly deep emotional breath. Mamma understood this discomfort all too well and she tried to explain it to me. It’s funny how we don’t really listen to understand when we can’t imagine a need for what another person is trying to share. I really wish I’d tried harder. In fact, there’s so much I needed and wanted to hear and say. I’d imagine most folks experiencing grief feel that way.

I was 17 when my brother, David, died in a car accident. I dealt with his loss so much better than my mom’s. I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons for this but I’d guess that among them was my age at the time. My son is now 17 and seems to have a wonderful perspective on his grief. Jackson, the real writer in the family, captured his thoughts about today in his post, Three Years. I must admit that his story makes me smile, too.

So today will be about finding reasons to smile. My mother’s personality was larger than life so with small efforts I can see her everywhere —  the 150 towels she monogrammed all over our house, her mother’s dishes I display on my walls, her dining room furniture, the spoons from all over the world she wanted me to collect when she sent me traveling the world, the pictures, her jewelry and clothes, her scent (I’ll always keep a bottle of Chanel No. 5 close by), my children, my family, me and all of the habits I picked up from her. While she is not here, she really is everywhere.

And that makes me smile today.

Fleeing the Flea Feeling

flee

After a wonderful week in New York City, me and my family came home to very unwelcome house guests — fleas.  Who knows if the “doggie door” we installed in the basement allowed these pesky critters into our home or if our scottie smuggled them in for company. No matter — they’re the sort of visitor that demands your attention. So, we bombed them, bathed them, and sprayed the ever-loving life out of them. All is fine now. Except the creepy feeling that one is nipping at my ankles. I can’t shake my sensitivity to the flea — even though he’s gone. I scratch on impulse. I stare at surfaces anytime I think I detect movement. I sit stone still concentrating to see if any foreign bodies are feeding off my body. Sound strange?

I wonder if this isn’t how things are with lots of difficult circumstances in life. When something unpleasant comes into your life and leaves again, does it ever really leave? Living as a prisoner to your past isn’t so uncommon. I read an incredibly depressing article about weight loss just a few days ago  that basically explained that once we become fat, despite our best efforts, we will probably stay fat. It seems that our bodies have a hard time forgetting our old ways. Talk about your past haunting you. Yikes! This week in the news (Martin/Zimmerman) has been another way of thinking about the challenges of moving forward. No matter where you stand on the issue, it is certain that the past is still very much a part of our present.

Growing and improving ourselves requires change. Yet, the sheer inertia of life as we know it makes change so dishearteningly difficult. Popular claim says it takes 21 days to form a habit. Some researchers say it takes anywhere from 18 days to five months to establish new ways, with the average being 66 days. I doubt I fall anywhere in the average range, which means I am probably somewhere in that five month range. FIVE MONTHS!  Geez. I can’t remember ever doing something new and contrary to an old habit on a daily basis for five months.  Even still, the choice lies before me. Learn to live with the fleas (or idea of fleas) or flee from the feeling that the fleas rule my life.

I choose flee.

Though I’m more likely than not to struggle, become frustrated, and possibly even fail, I’d rather flee the flea feeling than learn to live with the creepy dread that my happiness and contentment rests with my past.

Now, I’m off to do Buns of Steel. It’s day three. God help me make it a habit somehow and defy the odds that once means always.

 

 

What the Son Has Done for My Son

 

So, I’m sure you’ve noticed that teenagers are all over Twitter. They don’t hang out on Facebook anymore. Too many adults, I suppose. My son, a high school senior, tweets the most significant events from his day. His mention of me in this tweet made me quite happy.

I must tell you about Jackson. He’s a very gifted young man with a broad mind, deep convictions, and amazing potential. Most days I’m rendered speechless by his work ethic and dedication to his goals. He performs magic on a piano, playing both what he sees on the page and what he hears in his heart and ear. He blogs, writes, thinks, argues (mostly with himself), and is wise enough to laugh at himself when things get too intense. Jackson is a very high achiever, already earning full college tuition before his senior year even begins. I am genuinely grateful to God for Jackson’s blessings. No doubt.

Somehow I received an extra portion with this young man. He’s a rebel, but never with me and his dad. There’s much about this world he hates, but he always finds special ways to show his love for his family. He relishes his time alone, but never fusses when we want his company. He can’t wait to leave, but I am certain he’s not trying to get away from us. (Read this especially touching blog post Jackson wrote about his family.)

I don’t know if Jackson knows it or not, but he was made this way, and not by me or his dad. He has more gifts and unique skills than most people I know and this was not my accident. God has plans for Jackson and I can’t wait to have a front row seat to watch his life unfold.

Follow Jackson Barnett on Twitter and read his blog here.

 

What a Techno-Adolescent Does When it Rains

rainWhat do you do when it rains for a solid week?

Just today, I flipped channels, added 200 items to my pinterest boards, ate a piece of cake, then realized I needed something a little more involved or I’d go crazy. So, I’ve “redecorated” my blog. The fact that we leave for NYC on Tuesday and I haven’t done laundry should have been my boredom anecdote but that just involved more water, so I wasn’t interested.

I don’t know if I’ve earned a new status, but I came across a post from the early days of my blog that really made me laugh. In September 2007 I referred to myself as a techno-toddler. It’s six years later now which puts me right square in the middle of adolescence. Therefore, I will use that as my excuse for taking so long to do anything really special with this blog. As a techno-teen I’m moody, unpredictable, and totally unwilling to conform while secretly praying I fit in.

When I become a techno-adult I’ll be on top of the blogging thing. By then, no one will care. Well, except for me since adulthood will be all about self-improvement and reaching goals. Right?

Burning Down the House

fire

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I must have been the dumbest twelve year old on earth.

1978 was the year my parents signed a contract with God promising to torture me. They made me do chores after school! Like any self-respecting kid, I came straight home from school and ate a snack, watched tv, fought with my sister, and then tried to make it look like I did my chores. Vicky and I would divide the jobs, the kitchen and the back. She always got the part that had the least mess. But no matter, we were expected to have it spotless by the time mamma got home – 5:00. The torture of it all was trying to get all this work done in ten minutes. We never started early enough to get it done and the stress almost killed me.

One afternoon I was alone without help to get the normal jobs done plus one new one – clean out the fireplace. Oddly enough, I love fires. It’s the only thing I know that is always moving and staying in place at the same time. We’d had a fire just the night before. The colors amazed me and the warmth wasn’t artificial, like the heat blowing from vents in the floor. But on this afternoon, fire would be my enemy.

I started with this fireplace job first. I dreaded it most, so I tried to eliminate this torture right off the bat. I scooped up all the ashes into a bag, careful not to spill anything that would cause me further pain to clean. I carried them outside and put them in the corner of the garage. I wasn’t sure where to put them, so anywhere but in the fireplace seemed fine. Great – that job done.

Then I started cleaning the kitchen. It looked like we’d fed an army in there. The sink, what I could see of it, was loaded with pots, pans, dishes, plates, and cups, with food stuck to all of them. So, I started scraping. When I pulled the garbage can over to the sink, I realized I had to take it out before I could get anything done. And I did. Thank goodness I did.

When I opened the door to the garage that beautiful color and warmth turned very ugly. The entire corner of the garage was on fire! Panic swept over me. I ran back into the house and grabbed a cup of water. A cup. One cup. How I thought I could put out a fire with one cup is laughable. But I tried. When it didn’t work I came up with a better plan. I called my cousin, Kay.

Her mom answered. Should I tell Pat or ask for Kay? Remember that I am the dumbest kid in the world. I asked to speak to Kay. I told her my garage is on fire and I need her help. She said something smart like, “Why are you on the phone? Go get the hose!” So I did. I put it out. Kay came over and watched me watch the clock until my parents got home. I could hardly speak. I was sure it was my last day on earth. The stress almost killed me.

Then the family came home. I arranged my face in a sad, sorrowful expression hoping for amnesty. I couldn’t believe the response. No one was mad! Daddy said he could fix it. Mamma wanted to know when I was going to do the dishes. David and Vicky made fun of me. Nothing. After all that worry and stress. After all that work making my face look sad. Nothing.

Later that night Daddy did mention one thing to me. He said, “From now on, don’t put hot ashes in a paper bag.”

I must have been the dumbest twelve year old on the face of the earth.

Empty Can Be So Fulfilling



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Did I mention that I’ve turned an entire bedroom into a closet?

Now, if you are a woman reading this, you are super jealous. Brilliant idea, you’re thinking. You want pictures and advice on how to talk your two children into sharing a room so you can do this. If you are a man, you might be thinking about how pretentious and self-absorbing this person is and that you can’t imagine any reason to read anything else this hoarder has to say. Allow me disappoint you both. I don’t have pictures or anything so profound to say that either of you should finish this post. But, I do want to explore this issue of needing more space for things I don’t deeply love.

My closet-room is full. I suspect it would be full if it were three times larger. Though I might have to shop at thrift stores to fill it, there would be this crazy obligation I’d have to fill it up.  But, it’s everywhere else in life, too. I’m uncomfortable with empty or nearly empty things. My gas tank, my shampoo bottle, my belly, my cup, my Pinterest boards, my checking account, my pantry, and the worst, the toilet paper roll. Certainly, empty is not preferable with these things. But there are other aspects of my life that could use a little less. I need to get a grip on this “fill it up” habit. Rather, I should to establish more empty or nearly empty habits instead. My attic, my garage, my calendar, my appetite, and my weekends — they all need less. Most folks would probably agree.

I’ve read several books about organizing, controlling clutter, and such. I have some kicking boards on Pinterest, a playground for people who dream. (It’s no surprise that my largest board is Style Statements.) I’m struck by how funny these sorts of things are. The underlying message is still “collect more stuff” and “here’s what to do with it.” I’ve also read blogs of minimalists and studied the concept. The problem is finding the balance that will work in conjunction with the life that you lead. Childhood Dream: I always wanted to live like the Boxcar Children. Revised Dream: I would really prefer living like the Brady Bunch. Reality: No stay-at-home mom, no Alice, no Sam the butcher, and no way they could fit the clothes of six kids in those small closets and dressers. So, here’s the rub.

I love my closet, but I should have never allowed myself to do this. I’ve given myself permission to fill ‘er up when what I really needed was to let ‘er go. In the end, stuff clutters our physical space as much as our mental, intellectual, and spiritual space. When I’m burdened, I can’t think clearly. When I’m busy, I can’t reflect like I prefer. For me, living life to the fullest might require finding ways to empty out all the clutter in my home and in my schedule, as well as in my mind and in my heart.

Or maybe I need a room in my house with nothing but a cozy chair.

 

 

A New Kind of Gym Membership

I totally get Chandler. I blog like he worked out.

Chandler & the gym

I used to feel guilty for this. (OK, maybe the fact that I’m writing this post is evidence that guilt lingers.) But, I’m moving on from this and I’ve decided to write for myself. 100% for myself. My guess is that would have been the whole purpose from the beginning, but like Chandler, lots of other stuff gets in the way when you choose to join a gym. Let’s review what I am doing about what I hate about traditional blogging.

  1. The writing. I don’t like most of my writing. I always felt as though I had to be smart or something. If I’m going to continue with this, I want to write thoughts. And most of those are random, odd, inconsequential, and pointless. 
  2. The reading. I always felt all sorts of worry about who might read what I have to say. Maybe that’s why I tried to appear smart. From now on, who cares who reads. Besides, it’s 100% for myself, so problem solved!
  3. The content. Coming up with catchy things to write about can grate on my nerves. How ridiculous. That’s the sort of pressure someone out there has in his or her paying job and probably hates it just as much. Why would I put that on myself on purpose — and for no real reward. OK– there is some reward to coming up with something cool. I have a few posts that crack me up. So, my solution is to think up more of those. GOAL: crack myself up more. Since I’m so odd, that should be fairly easy.
  4. The competition. Have you seen the bloggers out there? Every time I click on a pin on Pinterest to find out how to refinish my kitchen cabinets, some thrifty mom is blogging her butt off and making money doing it. Good Lord. Talk about chaining yourself to the gym. I just can’t get into that. Solution: This is all about me. If you like it, great. If you don’t, well, there are loads more for you to love out there.
  5. The time. We all have the same number of minutes in a day and I want to spend mine happily. No more fretting over this. Take only the time that feels right. Then quit.
  6. Bells and Whistles. Some folks blogs remind me of the rhinestones on Dolly Parton’s outfits. I get dizzy trying to focus. To be perfectly honest, I love bling and flash. If it would magically appear on my page without me having to spend ANY time creating it, I’m for it. Otherwise, it will be the only place where I’m plain and simple.
  7. Staying on top of stuff. Now this is my biggest problem with blogging like a pro. You have to know so much stuff. Now, I know some stuff. I hang in circles where I appear to be the one who knows a whole lot of stuff. But, I also hang in circles where I don’t know so much as well. I am good with that. I like having both spaces. But, I don’t care so much for the pressure to be the one to know stuff before other people know stuff.  You know what I mean? Solution: I know it when I know it. I’m willing to share if anyone needs it. But, I’m not in any hurry about the whole thing.

My new gym membership looks like this:

Write when you want, about whatever you want, and do it simply, briefly, with humor, kindness, and total lack of concern if anyone likes it.  Except me.

Let’s see what my workout regime will be now.

 

I’m not Fickle. I’m a Kangaroo with Sticky Feet.

I’ve been told that I’m fickle. And not by strangers,  but by people who really know me and swear to me that they care for me. So, I suppose I need to think about this a bit, painful as it will be. Let’s start with a definition.

Fickle – adj. Characterized by erratic changeableness or instability, especially with regard to affections or attachments; capricious (capriciousness is characterized by or subject to whim; impulsive and unpredictable).

Changeableness or instability? Ew. That stings. Who aspires to this? If I’m totally honest with myself, I must admit that a lot of this really is true.  As I review my life, I do see lots of examples of erratic changes and impulsive attachments.  It is true that I’ve always had an incredibly difficult time making decisions. I double majored in Political Science and Communication as an undergrad in college at Auburn and became dual certified in Language Arts and Social Science in graduate school when I decided to teach. I’ve never enjoyed teaching the same thing all day long, so I’ve always asked to teach multiple subjects. I have focused on mastering teaching different courses throughout my career, then I move on. Early on it was Drama, Speech, and Media Production, then came Advanced Placement U.S. History, later it was cross-curricular English and history, then integrating technology in ALL subjects and PBL. Scattered in there I had a  need to go beyond the classroom with things like school-wide events like History Fairs and World Showcases and later co-authoring a book for national publication and implementing professional development programs for teacher training in technology. I’ve spent so much time focusing on technology that I can’t remember when it wasn’t on my mind. Most recently, I am obsessed with leadership.  I did spend 13 years in one school, but after that I’ve had a tough time staying put more than five years. From the inside, I’ve never really thought about how this might look, but yes, change is the constant in my life. If one knows my history, I can imagine that I must always look like a flight risk.

What about affections or attachments?  This one is tough to swallow. I have not maintained the same passions over my entire career. While that isn’t necessarily bad, I’d rather not be known as the kangaroo with slightly sticky feet. I love the tortoise. I understand the hare. I’d much rather be one of them. Not the animal that hops around as soon as the sticky goo wears off her feet. I can take great comfort in the fact that I am NOT fickle in my personal life. I am blessed with a truly beautiful twenty-year marriage to an amazing man. I don’t think my children experience sporadic affections with me. While I can be whimsical and impulsive at home, my husband and kids do not see that in me often. I don’t care for surprises and they know exactly what I will be doing if I have a free afternoon. (Reading or searching for what I will be reading next. Or working.)

OK. So, I’m partially fickle. Now to decide what I think about this. Is it a bad thing that I’m in constant need for change?  Why do I need a new challenge and constant motivation?  I suppose I get bored easily. In the midst of a new challenge or project, I can’t help but look ahead for what might be next. To be completely honest, I think about writing all the time. I’ve even written 25,000 words of a novel. If only I could find the time, I would love to find out if I could write something someone would care to read. I know myself well enough to know that someday I will find out the answer to that question. I suppose I’m cool with being a bit erratic and unstable. Professionally, I am impulsive, prone to hop off into unchartered territory at any time. But, I am not erratic with respect to relationships, devotions, and the deepest concerns of my heart and soul.

Thus, I am a sticky-footed kangaroo. But, have come to the conclusion that I am not fickle. Unless I change my mind about that tomorrow.

Strengths Based Approach for Teens

 

I am curious about something. 

Recently I took the Strengths Finder assessment. Wow. Powerful experience. Of course, validation of who I am is cool. For some reason, it made me feel good that a computer test could tell me what I really already knew about myself. But, it has done something else. I’ve really started focusing so much more on doing what I already do. Now, I seem to be doing it more. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve actually smiled to myself when I do something that is in line with one of my strengths. It’s like I’m taking a little daily dose of me and the side effects are pretty cool.

This sounds exactly like something teenagers should do. Imagine a world where teenagers see what’s great about themselves and constantly searching for things to do that they are good at doing that made them smile every day. Little too hard to imagine? Probably. Such a shift could push our world off is axis.  Let’s think smaller.

I’m imagining a school where that happens. What if every student in an entire school took the Strengths Finder assessment, learned more about themselves AND all of their classmates, and were provided opportunities to practice using their strengths in their school and community. What if students discussed contributions in their project based learning groups based on what they know of their own strengths? What if the basketball team, Key Club officers, band members, and the soccer team knew one another’s skills and abilities but also knew one another’s personal strengths? What could be accomplished then? Now, that’s not too big to imagine, is it?

Must figure out how to make this happen.  We only need about $6,000. Ideas?

Project 24: Thinking about the Planning Process for Digital Transformation

I am quite excited about my involvement in Project 24. Project 24 is an urgent call to action on the need for systemic planning around the effective use of technology and digital learning to achieve the goal of “career and college readiness” for all students.

Each of the members of the Project 24 team share experiences in the visioning, planning, implementation, and assessment phases of digital transformation. My piece focuses on the planning phase. Enjoy my article, Five Steps For Creating The Digital Learning Plan You Need.

This outstanding project is sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education in conjunction with other notable efforts, such as Digital Learning Day.

 

Ten R & R Practices Sure to Refresh and Renew

How often do you rest? I mean, really relax. I haven’t studied the R & R concept much but I am curious about its correlation to other things in life. Logically, a rested and relaxed person is more productive. I’m going to assume that is correct. So, a reason to more thoroughly explore R & R is for the culturally acceptable idea that it will make one more productive. I do care about my work and I do want to be more productive. But that is not why I am thinking about rest and relaxation.

I have a better reason. I want more effective R & R because I want to enjoy life more. If that makes me a hippie, then so be it. I am going to brainstorm ten ways I can find the kind of rest and relaxation that will refresh my mind, body, and soul.

  1. Read more books that make me laugh.
    I need to break out of my genre rut. I need some crazy stuff on my Goodreads bookshelf.
  2. Exercise. At least a little bit.
    Let’s be honest — this one is a bit of a dream, but it could happen. I know I have felt so much better the two times I exercised. Must try really hard to do that again.
  3. Keep my bedroom clutter-free, my sheets freshly laundered, and the air scented.
    I did a bit of maintenance on my bedroom recently and find that I really love being in their now. Must take this to the next level. Sleep is not just sleep – it must be great sleep to be really restful.
  4. Get out of town.
    My husband and I love to hide out in the mountains for a few days after the end of his basketball season. It has finally ended, so I am pumped about this trip coming up next week! But, we need to do more short “day trips” more often during the year. The anticipation makes for a great mental escape!
  5. Play more.
    In the same vein as the books, I need to laugh more. I’m not sure what sort of play activity will make me laugh, but I need to do a very strategic search.
  6. Cook more.
    I am not much of a cook. But my family (two sons, husband) love to eat. In fact, they will do most anything for a great meal. My husband is well aware that he married someone a bit kitchen-challenged. But, I want my sons to have a few memories of their mom doing something special in the kitchen. Why would that be relaxing? Because I’d enjoy making them happy. And let’s be honest. Good food makes boys happy.
  7. Work less.
    I work all the time. I never say no. Well, I rarely say no. I need to pay much more attention to the clock. It tells me everything I need to know about work but I just ignore it. Crazy. I look at a clock at least 20 times a day. You’d think that would be enough reminders to do what I really need to do not what I feel obligated to do. (I should move this to #1 on the list.)
  8. Write more.
    Sometimes I have so many things bubbling around in my head that I can’t relax. I’ve started a novel and written ideas for other novels and short stories. I’m not sure if it would do me good to finish something or cause me to want to write more. But I do like how I feel after I’ve finished writing what was in my head. More of that would be cool.
  9. Limit stuff.
    Social media messes with your life. Even in moderation, I learn so much on Twitter that I have to start using what all I learn. While that is a good thing, I don’t have to learn quite so much quite so fast.  And other stuff needs to be limited, too. I need to limit how much sweet tea I drink. It’s decaffeinated, but it’s sweet. That’s not a good thing. An unsweetened tea is just wrong. I need to limit how much we eat out (another reason I need to cook). We all wish for more time, but we already have it. We just spend it on the wrong things.
  10. When summer arrives, I should swim.
    OK – right now our pool is green. Or it may be black. I try not to look. Either way, it will require extrication of massive amounts of leaves and other foreign bodies. My husband usually handles that. I must remind him to start now. But when summer arrives, I need to get in the pool. I don’t know what it is about the sun (Vitamin D, I guess) but it makes everything better. I must get in the water and soak up all the sun my mind, body, and soul needs. I can’t wait.
What is your rest and relaxation regimen? I’d love to steal your great ideas!

 

Increasing Student Ownership

Take a moment to read about the transformation at Childersburg High School on Education Week Teacher.  This article tells part of the story of how we’ve worked to increase student ownership.

We have placed a strong emphasis on creating a college and career ready school.  While we have much to do, we are making tremendous strides.  Check out some of other things we are doing at CHS posted here.

I look forward to sharing more very soon.  For now, enjoy!

 

 

The Story That Hasn’t Been Told (Yet)

I have the classic case of blogging ADD. I think about writing.  I record loads of voice memos about what I need to write about. I even map it out in my head. But then, I get distracted. I must find a way to push through because I have a story to share and I need to be the one to share it.

So here goes.

Five years ago I developed, launched, and began leading a teacher-led  technology initiative in my school district in Talladega County, Alabama.  I was certain this would work for a number of reasons.  A culture for collaboration  existed among teachers. (Not actual collaboration , but an eagerness to learn together)  The district administration trusted teacher leaders with the future of our schools.  (And began to trust us even more as time passed) We knew what we were talking about.  (I’m always amazed how easy it is to do something when you REALLY know what you are doing)

Today, I am astounding with our results.  We’ve changed the way teachers teach in Talladega County.  We have personally trained and mentored  over 65% of the teachers in our district. Those teachers have reached 100% of our teachers each year.  When you come to our district to teach, it is not only the expectation at you will integrate technology into your instruction, but that you will be provided (soon, if not immediately) with what you need to do it.  Teacher-led training and mentoring, equipment, support and vision is part of the package.  We have 553 certified staff and 7650 students, an average sized district in Alabama. We have 17 schools and serve seven distinct communities, each unique in needs, resources, and challenges. Yet, our result amaze me thus far.  Over the last five years our district math proficiency scores  have increased 20.75% and science proficiency scores have increased 27.5%. Last year’s graduation cohort increased 23% over the previous year’s cohort.  We have transformed two high schools into a 1:1, another slated to transition in January and fourth school in the fall.  We have many pockets of 1:1 by grade levels in other schools. Visit any Talladega County School and you’ll see equipment.  But that’s not what astounds me. As flashy and cool as it is, the technology is NOT center stage.  Learning is.  (Can’t wait to tell that story!  You’ll love it!)

Now understand, we are NOT a wealthy district.  In fact, we’d be pushing it to claim to be a “middle class” district. But the commitment is there. I plan to write more about our efforts in hopes that these reflections will help others while providing clarity as we grow.  I’d love to know your thoughts, as well.

There are many lessons in this story.  Something to chew on for now…. Teacher leaders CAN transform schools.  I look forward to sharing more about how this has happened in my world!

 

My Best Decision: Don’t Change Paths

At some time or other, everyone gets ants in their pants. We start looking around at other options. This can be great.  It can also be very dangerous. I looked around a bit not long ago and I’m so glad my circumstances were such that I didn’t jump. But, I learned a great deal in the process. I like my life as it is. And that’s a big thing to be able to say. I don’t want a different job, different title, different schedule, or a different set of challenges to work on. I’m happy with the road I’ve taken.

I don’t need a new path to make a big difference.  Over the course of the couple of years, I’ve found great inspiration in the fact that I am comfortable in my skin. I have no need to live my life in overdrive to impress anyone so I can passionately tackle the challenges that mean something to me. It’s not about me. It’s about empowering others.

I’m glad opportunities, options, and other paths are available. I feel the same way about shoes. When I find the perfect pair I don’t stop looking at other shoes. I enjoy looking around because it reminds me how great my decision was. After all, the perfect pair is about much more than the look. They must fit. They must make you feel something no other pair could make you feel. What I do fits me. I am a teacher. I don’t want to be anything but that. Even though I’m moving back into a position as a technology integration specialist this year, I am still a teacher. I know that no other role can replace how I feel about being a teacher. I truly value the work of school and district administrators as well as other valuable education professionals. I believe it is very important for me to remain in constant partnership with every stakeholder in education. As a teacher leader building bridges of communication with these partners can make a tremendous difference. I can speak up on behalf of teachers. But for me to do this, I must remain a teacher. I am truly happy with where I am.

Besides, It is summer and I’m about to go get in the pool and read a book.

This is Your Life: A Mid-Life Dream Check, Part One

I love Switchfoot’s “This is Your Life.”  Here’s the chorus, which is basically the entire song.

This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose

I don’t want to ask these questions in my golden years.  What if I don’t like the answers?  I’d have little time, energy, or opportunity to make things right for myself.  I’m 45 years old and I think now is the perfect time to ask myself if my life “is everything I dreamed that it would be.”  So, I begin.

Why Digital Portfolios Have Become My Passion

I’ve done some digging and found a few things I wrote about goals and dreams when I was younger.  I will share those things in my next post.  For now, I’ve been thinking about a related topic.  I am quite jealous of all these youngsters growing up with a digital archive of their life.  What I’d give to have a accurate portfolio depicting my growth, perspective, hopes and dreams.  It’s really hard to conduct a mid-life dream check without accurate information from my formative years.

I’d love to refer to a Facebook timeline, a school blog where I had explained exactly why I hated Biology so much, or a Google Drive filled with all my high school and college resumes, papers, essays, letters, poems, and projects.  After all, we must admit that we remember things quite differently than the way they actually happened.  It would be so easy to make up what you wanted to accomplish or what you were good at doing.  I could just name the things I’ve actually accomplished and could try to fool myself that I’ve been successful.  Easy peesy!  But deep in my core, that won’t work for me.  I need to know what I dreamed.  If the purpose of this exercise is truly to conduct a mid-life dream check in order to redirect future actions, I have to begin with where I hoped I’d be.  I have only a school-girl diary, a tiny journal, and my memory for reference.  Not ideal.

Using Your Portfolio for Reflection and Redirection

I believe the process of self-actualization (becoming what you are capable of becoming) is deeply rooted in my youthful goals, dreams, and ambitions.  Though I didn’t know what I was capable of as a teenager, I dreamed big dreams.  Satisfaction with life begins with coming to terms with who I wanted to be.  I’m so jealous that I have very little evidence of who that was for me.

Imagine a world were EVERYONE has this sort of information as they mature. Imagine if it were protocol in every field for professionals to reflect on their life’s goals and dreams.  What if (within the context of their vocation/profession) these reflections were made in order to create plans to use their lives to achieve their youthful ambitions?  Am I crazy for thinking we should have that?  I can’t help but wonder what sort of innovation might be spurred, what problems might be solved, and what valuable perspectives might be gained.

A digital portfolio can make those reflections honest, thorough, and powerful.

Understanding Personal Needs

In some way or another, I have always found myself trying to understand people (and myself) along with my students in my English or history classes.  One way I help students understand human needs is to explain  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  I’m not expert in psychology or Maslow’s hierarchy, but this hierarchy has always made great deal of sense to me.

I find it useful on this quest to answer Switchfoot’s question.  Maslow analyzed characteristics of many who had reached self-actualization.  I’m not sure if these characteristics should be considered goals, benchmark measures, or what.  I simply find them fascinating.  If I’m going to seriously consider the answer to Switchfoot’s “Are you who you want to be” question, I must have something for contemplation.

Maslow found that they were:

Reality-centered: Differentiating between fake and real, dishonesty and truth.
Means focused: Not seeking just the end but enjoying the journey.
Problem-centered: Focusing on solving problems not bemoaning one’s troubles.
Self-sufficient: Not needing the company of others.
Deep relationships: What connections they had with others was deep and meaningful.
Autonomy: Not being driven by the deeper needs.
Socially aloof: Not being driven by social pressures.
Open humor: Able to laugh at themselves and life in general.
Acceptance: Accepting self and others without judgment.
Simplicity: Being themselves, without pretence.
Spontaneity: Reacting as themselves without pause to worry.
Respect: Accepting others as they are.
Humility: Not trying to be superior to others.
Ethical: A personal sense of right and wrong.
Openness: Being able to see things in new ways.
Creative: Easy identification of new ideas.
Peak experience: Achieving that state of nirvana.
(Maslow self-actualization source)

Teaching: Another word for Transcendence

I like that Maslow amended his original hierarchy with an interesting addition above self-actualization: Transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential. Now as a teacher and a teacher-leader, this really speaks to me.  It really isn’t going to be enough to know I did what I hoped to do as long as I live in a world where I care about the people around me.  It becomes about them, too. What will their answer to the song be?  If I can help them along their path, shouldn’t I?  Where do my needs end and serving the needs of others begin?  Teachers know.  It’s a beautifully complicated combination of the two.  We get it.  In fact, I think we got it long before Maslow thought of it.  And at its core, it’s the hardest part of teaching.  Not everyone wants to work to reach their potential.  But for us to reach the apex of our own hierarchy, we must motivate them to find a way.

Thoughts on Preparing My Answer

To become what we are capable of becoming is a personal quest for us all.  One doesn’t need to be aware that Abraham Maslow wrote a paper over 50 years ago on human needs to know that the needs are there.  Turns out that the lyrics to Switchfoot’s song resonate with most of us.  So, this is your life.  Are you who you want to be?  Is it everything you dreamed it would be?  Answering that question is something everyone will do, whether consciously or not.  Everyone will use some sort of standard and measure for reaching his or her answer.  I will use what I have – a diary, a journal, and my memory.  I will look at Maslow’s revised hierarchy and the characteristics of those who have reached self-actualization.  In the end, I hope to allow my heart to lead my head.

Then, I’ll work hard to build a digital evidence box for my End-of-Life Dream Check.  I expect I’ll be much less patient in my golden years and in need of a quick way to reference my life’s dreams.  Better a digital portfolio for half my life than for none of it at all.