And The Beat Goes On

The school year has officially started and it wouldn’t be a first day without complete chaos. Ha! Honestly, first days are generally good for us, usually little to zero interruptions. However, we are returning from a year of remote and face to face learning, technically we have three groups of kindergarteners, and some parents are still in a frenzy. As a result, we had a ton of hiccups on our first day. If you name it, it happened. At the end of the day we had to take a moment to reflect on what went well and how we can improve our systems.

Getting parents out of the building to start school on the first day is always difficult. This first day was seamless. Most parents dropped their students off, waved goodbye and went home to breath a sigh of relief. They put their trust in God, the school system, the faculty and staff and ran as fast as they could. The day moved quickly with rapid and timely interventions for most disturbances and then real tragedy struck, dismissal!

Why is dismissal always the most difficult part of the day? It was a disaster. Radios weren’t working, teams were trying to talk on the same channels, parents were in the wrong pick up lines, students decided to take a different exit route at the end of the day… By the time we got every kid off the campus, our shirts were drenched in sweat and we were exhausted. No tired like first day teacher tired. Dog-tired, weary and depleted described the staff.

But the show couldn’t stop on the first day. So, what did we do? We gathered together as a team. We looked at the time we finished and made a goal to finish earlier on the second day. We high fived because we didn’t lose any students and everyone made it home safely. We came up with a Plan B, C and D so we could have options for each group instead of a one size fits all template. We printed lists, we familiarized ourselves with the kids on the lists, put names with faces because the beat goes on. Today we all walked in optimistic because no matter what day one looked like we know we have a challenge and a duty to be the best we can be each and everyday. Pray for us as we try again and again.

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Succeeding While Suffering – No Tired Like Teacher Tired

Every teacher by the month of March

As I prepare for another school year, I am thankful for the opportunity to impact the lives of families. Being an educator is a commitment and we spend so much time focusing on the well being of others that we easily forget to take care of ourselves. Educators complain, a lot, about being taken advantage of and the truth is we’ve allowed it. We’re afraid to not go the extra mile because we might seek a promotion later and we don’t want to be characterized as lazy. We’re afraid to speak up because we don’t want to be labeled as vocal or aggressive. We’re afraid to take a day to focus on our mental health because we’re afraid it shows we’re not concerned about the academic needs of our students.

The truth is we’re in partnerships with families that say no. They speak up when they’re against something or they feel there’s a more efficient way to do things. And I’ve seen very few students in 25 years with perfect attendance. Clearly, there’s a disconnect. If they’re worthy of these “privileges”, why do we feel we’re not?

At this point I’ve had a chance to recharge and reset and I’m looking forward to flourishing this school year. While I’m ready to run the race, I’m setting firm boundaries to help me run to the finish line versus crawl to the end.

  1. Say, “no”. No is a complete sentence. It doesn’t need an explanation. If I’m tired and/or uncomfortable committing to something, the answer is NO.
  2. Take mental health days – Acquiring and preparing for a substitute is more exhausting than actually going to work. Years ago we use to prepare substitute folders in advance. I will definitely go back to doing the work beforehand so when I need a day, I’m going to take that day.
  3. Plan for the next day – When at home, I prep my lunch, iron clothes, bags are typically packed, etc. Everything needed to walk out the door is ready. This affords me the maximum amount of rest. I get laxed at some points during the year but I need to stay the course this year.
  4. Stop burning myself out on Mondays – My Monday “To Do” list is always hectic. I try to knock out as many tasks as I can and I’m completely drained by the end of the day and not looking forward to the next day of work. This year I’ll try to balance my schedule so that everything is getting done but it’s not costing me my sanity and every ounce of energy I had when I started.
  5. Workout – Many people that I work with workout in the mornings and then rely on coffee all day. I’m not a coffee drinker and I haven’t found anything that stops me from falling over when I workout in the morning. Since I know mornings don’t work, I have to be a lot more intentional in making sure I am prioritizing my physical health and staying consistent with working out in the evenings.
  6. Prepare my classroom for the next day – Just like I prepare everything at home, I’ll devote approximately 15 minutes to getting my room in order for the next instructional day/group.
  7. Get rid of distractions (Teacher Talk) – This is one that will allow me to do more. Teachers have a tendency to stop by your room with a question that turns into a 30 minute conversation about their dog, the baby and the traffic on their route to work. The reality is sometimes we just need to sit and feel like we have a friend but that’s 30 minutes gone. I’m guilty of this as well so I’ll make it my business to stay in my box so I can work or sit in silence and others can do the same.

I’m going to post my list of boundaries as a reminder to myself. Hopefully by having them visible I can stick to my own rules. What are some healthy habits you think teachers can do more of or less of to help with their mental, emotional and physical state throughout the year? What are some of your stress relievers?

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Rigor or Relationships?

Many educators in Texas have returned to work and it’s shocking because it seems like we just started our Summer Break yesterday. Some teachers have recovered, many have not, but we can all agree that most are overly anxious about what’s to come. As we watch the news and listen to the reports of the numbers for Covid starting to rise again, we know we need to be prepared for the number of changes coming our way. The one thing we are very certain of is the fact that students are returning face to face. The question is, “What extreme measures are we trying this time around to ensure safety?” and “How do we develop meaningful relationships with students and vice versa if we’re being programmed to be afraid of each other due to the “cooties”?”

I’ve spent countless hours in professional development and staff meetings this summer as well as many other summers that have focused on curriculum. Brad Johnson (education guru) has been doing tee shirt giveaways this summer and he has a tee shirt that says, “Love what you teach, but love who you teach more.” While I have always focused on relationships and am not afraid to attribute my success as an educator to building and sustaining relationships, I’m confused as to why we are not having more conversations like the message on the tee shirt in this moment. We are using every minute of meetings to push rigor versus relationships. How can we continue to suggest we are effectively teaching students we don’t know?

As I sit processing things, the first thing I try to remind my peers is the idea of having three groups of Kindergartens enter the building at the same time. We have our new, five year olds. We have our first graders that will enroll as a second year student but physically enter a school building for the first time. And we have our second graders that don’t fully understood that school is actually nine months with fewer breaks than they’re accustomed to having. How are we going to address each of these groups during the first month of school?

The next group of students that definitely worry me are our students with special needs. Due to weakened immune systems and other health conditions, many of them participated in remote learning last year. After 1.5 years, how do we acclimate them back into a more structured learning environment? And how do you teach that one kid that was in class last year that the teacher student ratio is not 1:1 in real life?

My next group is teachers. We’re changing while we’re changing. We’ve had very limited stability the last two years and now we’re being asked to learn at least two new systems, complete an entire course (equivalent to going to grad school for a year), protect our students, protect ourselves and still make the students comfortable while teaching them a rigorous curriculum. And administrators have questions about the absentee rates. 🤔

The last group I worry about are families. Each of these groups and their adjustments will have an impact on their families. All of these factors will impact the home. If we don’t focus on the relationship first, we are going to create a group of life long learners with no real passion for progress or purpose. They will learn to go with the flow to keep from disrupting the row. Not good enough!

If you’re a parent or educator, what changes are you making in preparation for a positive and prosperous school year? Drop some ideas below. 💡

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The Crayola Experience

The Entrance/Welcome Sign

This year’s summer vacation required us to travel across multiple states and during that time we started to allow our inner child take over. One of the states we visited was Minnesota and while there we decided to partake in the adventures of The Mall of America, the largest mall in North America. As an educator I felt compelled to participate in The Crayola Experience, because what educator does not love the idea of learning the history of Crayola while playing with them, right??!? 🥴 The Crayola Experience was recommended for kids 3-9 but stretched me far beyond my comfort zone.

One of the first activities you engage in is the naming of your crayon. You pick a color, name your crayon and print a label to place on your crayon. Easy breezy and then the fun begins! The second activity (if you move in order) requires you to photoshop yourself into a coloring page. Seemed cool until I was attempting it for the 30th time. At that point I was laughing so hard I couldn’t get a good angle. Creating the coloring sheet was far more difficult than we thought but it was also far more entertaining than we imagined.

From there, we decided to do Silly Selfies. You pick a design, align the eyes, nose and mouth with your features and snap a pic. Once you upload it, your selfie floats across the screen and you have to try and find yourself. More difficult than you can imagine when your own features are hidden. And the selfies…are very silly.

Next we did a lot of waxing activities. Melting crayons, creating figures made of crayons, etc. There was a line for one of the waxing activities because all of the girls wanted “the ring”. Sir, I would like the car. Yes, the car! Lol!

There were lots of activities that required you to color before you could create. For example, you would color a picture and then create a puzzle. Or you could color a picture and create a fashion design for a character.

While all the kids that were present with their local YMCA were eating lunch, my family decided it was the perfect time to catch a show. During the show is where we learned how crayons are named, the process for making crayons and what happens to the excess wax. When we finished we used our tokens to grab our parting gifts and laughed ourselves out the mall. The Crayola Experience was a ton of fun but your girl struggled. 😂

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Yay!!!! Our family finally got around to taking our vacation. While planning for our trip, we realized how complacent we had become due to Covid and as stated before, we struggled with the planning phase. However, we finally decided we would continue our quest in visiting all 50 states by choosing a couple more to add to our list. After many discussions, we chose Minnesota as our final destination. With that in mind, we came up with a plan that would allow us to visit at least one other state during this journey.

Our first stop was actually in Oklahoma but we’ve done Oklahoma several times before so it was simply a resting place on the front end of the trip. Our second stop was South Dakota and this was a new state for every member of the family. South Dakota is not on our desired list of states to visit so we didn’t feel compelled to head to Mt. Rushmore and visit their most notable attraction. However, we did find some activities in Sioux Falls that we could enjoy and whew, we had a blast!

Of course, we love being outdoors and the idea that we could go outdoors with little humidity equaled party time. We visited Falls Park and though the water was low due to a drought, it was still very picturesque. We hiked, had lunch over the falls and biked through the city. It also felt very comforting to be in a place where there were no strangers. Every person we encountered was friendly and accommodating. I met several “friends” during our hike but, my favorite was a little boy who told me all about his travels, his adventures at the park and the next stop on HIS agenda.

We also visited The Butterfly Museum/Aquarium. Their space was smaller than most spaces we’ve visited but it made the experience a little more personable and it gave other groups a chance to interact with us and laugh at our foolery. I also think my husband has a distinct scent that attracts butterflies because the last few times we’ve visited butterfly gardens, butterflies have tried to exit with him. We’ve found them attached to him and they’ve had to be removed. 🥴

The last thing we did was visit a couple of their popular food places including Taco John. We were told Taco John was a must.

The beginning of our trip set the tone for a relaxing vacation. It was very refreshing and it felt good to move at a snail’s pace and be free of responsibilities for a few days.

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Social Media: Helpful or Harmful?

Recently, I posed a question to a young man about Gen Z. My question was, “What is wrong with your peers?” I went on to explain the reason for my question noting how so many young adults lack accountability and they fail at committing to things long term. As if that wasn’t enough, communication is zero. His reply, “They smoke too much.” What???!?

The gentleman went on further in sharing his thoughts. He explained Gen Z has grown up in a world of social media. Social media has taught them to have jobs, talents, businesses and things that are sometimes not realistic in the moment. Because they can’t keep up with the Jones’, they are sinking into a state of confusion and depression. He concluded by saying social media has led them to believe they are failures, so they smoke weed. That’s their answer, their cure. Wow!

From the outside looking in, I thought Gen Z had it made. I perceived social media as an outlet of opportunities and I’m sure it still is. However, I didn’t realize they were putting this level of pressure on themselves because of social media. But once this statement was made, it made me realize how football players find the need to post EVERY offer they receive on Twitter. I starting envisioning all of the luxury bags I see on Instagram. And then I recalled all of the couples videos and “catching flights not feelings” videos that made it to all the platforms. What I discovered is many of them are looking for clout before it’s truly their time to shine. They don’t want next, they want now. I really started to question how much negative impact does social media have on our kids?

If you spend a lot of time on social media, ask yourself, “Why are so many athletes in the transfer portal and why do we know about it?”, “Why are athletes committing again on social media?”, “Why do we need to know you’re expecting?” I think we’ll figure that out. “Why do we know you went to Saks, Nordstroms, etc.?” My point is why have we become so comfortable with sharing so much of ourselves? Well, only the parts that make the highlight reel. Has social media really had this kind of impact on our kids? Has it become harmful? Again, I thought it gave Gen Z a head start. What are your thoughts???!? 🤔

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The Inn of the Hills

Inn of the Hills

When people said they were going to be outside this summer, they meant they were going to be outside, outside. There are no suitcases to be found. The cost of a rental car for a week is more than a monthly car payment. And hotels are charging mortgage prices for extended stays. People are glad to be “free”.

My family travels every summer so of course we are ready to go. However, we realized how much “The Lockdown of 2020” took us by storm. We didn’t take time to plan and prepare a year in advance as we usually do so we’ve been walking around confused. While we’re still finalizing plans for a vacation coming soon, we did have a chance to make an impromptu trip to Kerrville, TX.

In Kerrville, we stumbled upon this gem of a hotel called The Inn of the Hills. It’s in a very quiet but busy part of town. There were many restaurants to access but that was really the only flow of traffic in the area. And down the street was a body of water for those choosing to fish or just sit in the quiet. Even with options available, the best place to be was at the hotel.

The hotel houses a full restaurant, a game room, two pools, and lounging areas outside of every room and the restaurant. The pool area was so spacious, there were multiple families out and we never made contact with each other, not even to speak. And most importantly, it was extremely quiet. There was absolutely no noise. My type of place.

Needless to say, this was a pleasant getaway. It was a great opportunity to wind down and reset. It was also a welcoming opportunity to spend time alone with my small family. What are your plans for the summer? Are you going outside? Share some ideas below for somw of your favorite travel spots.

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Father, Father

Father’s Day brings an opportunity for many to acknowledge and celebrate their fathers. Truthfully, this is a rare occurrence because dads are often overlooked. We have very high expectations of the patriarch of the family but we fail to recognize their efforts on a daily basis. We reserve it for that one shining moment called Father’s Day.

Having lost my father, Father’s Day is different for me, not a sad time, but a different time. As I watched all the Father’s Day posts on my feed this past weekend, I found myself scrolling past each of them. I didn’t take the time to like anybody’s post or send any words of jubilee. I just couldn’t find the strength to engage. The crazy part is my dad always celebrated Juneteenth. It was a holiday in our household all of my life. So, to have Juneteenth on Saturday and Father’s Day on Sunday had me in a slight slump.

Instead of moping and thinking about things that I can’t change, my family and I decided to take full advantage of the weekend. My husband fired up the pit for Juneteenth because that is exactly what my dad would have done. My dad actually took off work and still didn’t get a fire started until everybody else had completed a full day of work. On Father’s Day we took a quick getaway to relax and walk away from the hustle and bustle of life as well as the memories of what we used to do on Father’s Day. And of all the things that were said and done, to see my son laugh and smile as my husband spoke of my dad and some of his antics of years ago was heartwarming. My son hadn’t spoke of my dad or smiled when hearing conversations about my day since 2019. To hear him crack jokes and laugh about the grandfather that spoiled him immensely blessed my heart. That one moment in time was pure joy and a win for me.

How did you celebrate your father? If you have lost your father, how do you cope with that reality on days like Father’s Day?

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The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz's Four Agreements Applied to Higher Ed. Leadership — Dr.  Audrey Reille

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom was a book I read many years ago. I enjoyed it so much my husband and I used it during one of our Marriage Enrichment courses. I only started reading the book after seeing it as a recommendation on Pinterest but the four agreements have been instrumental in my personal and professional life.

In Ruiz’ book, he states, “children do not know any better than to agree with the adult realities into which they are indoctrinated.” He goes on to say, “Children have no choice but to agree.” “But as we mature, we can become warriors, breaking free from the shackles of agreements with our implanted, false ideas. We can accept healthier agreements.”

As I sit and read blogs, scroll this social media and watch teenagers and young adults in action I am seeing the words of Ruiz’ come to life. This generation is respectfully setting boundaries with the adults in their lives and definitely moving away from ideas that have been ingrained in their minds. They are no longer doing things because “that’s what we’ve always done”. Ruiz has set a standard and teenagers and adults alike are becoming healthier, happier people.

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word – Speak with integrity. Say what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak out against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. – This is the part that offends most people. The truth does hurt. Most people see the truth as an act of pain instead of an act of progress. We don’t want to be corrected. We are afraid to correct ourselves because people will know we made a mistake. Stay encouraged, speak life into yourself and learn to speak life into others.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally – Nothing others do is because if you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. – We are quick to tell someone, “Do You” until it doesn’t benefit us or go along with our narrative. We must learn to accept peoples’ realities and respect their views and opinions. What they choose to do has little to do with me. Even when it impacts me, their decisions were for their welfare.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. – Communication is key in any relationship. Often we look for clues and make hints so we can draw our own conclusions. Making assumptions stops progress. When we make assumptions, we misunderstand, we take it personally and then we react, typically negatively. Ask for what you need, even information.
  4. Always Do Your Best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. – This is a learning lesson for many. I have to tell myself daily, “You gave your best.” In working with students, they become easily frustrated when things don’t turn out the way they expect them to turn out. This is especially true of athletes. My question is always, “Did you try your best?” or “Did you give the best you had today?” And I end the conversation.

Do you practice any of these agreements? Are you living life on your own terms? I am learning to free myself of the past and live life on my own terms. I encourage you to find the emotional, mental and physical freedom that allows you to be true to you.

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I Am Amazing!

The last day of school for the 2021-21 school year has arrived and to say I am relieved is an understatement. As I woke up in preparation for the day and arrived tardy to work, I had to keep reminding myself I survived the school year. I pulled through the toughest year in my 25 years of being an educator. In addition to the mental and emotional turmoil, I decided to break the rules and stand on a chair which caused me a little bit of physical pain as well. But in the midst of it all, I gave myself a pep talk, put on my end of year attire and limped into work with a smile on my face. I thought about all the things I endured this year but then decided to shift my focus to all the things I accomplished this year.

We were one of the school districts that tried the hybrid model. I taught online students and face to face students and sometimes their sessions overlapped. I teach students with special needs so think of the disadvantages for all parties that engaged. However, all of my students still had a fulfilling school year, they were able to show progress and their confidence increased.

I was tasked with having two of the most difficult students on campus, one on my caseload, one in my class. Both of these students had been to a minimum of four schools prior to coming to our happy place. Both of them managed to make it through an entire year of academia at one school, for the first time in their lives. We were able to build relationships with the students and develop their social and behavioral skills.

We thought we were losing team members but after a retirement announcement we managed to keep our team together. Many of us had to shift roles, but at least we get to continue growing together as one. Adding two new teachers to the team this year and possibly having to see them leave so soon was a bomber. So, we were elated to keep The Little Rascals together.

My evaluation, as always, exceeded expectations. I am very passionate about what I do so I generally don’t care about evaluations but to have my efforts acknowledged in written form was a highlight for this year. Many leaders do what’s necessary to get the job completed but don’t find time to encourage their teachers. So stating the obvious and having it noted in my file was a remarkable gift.

Last but not least, people, the kind words and acknowledgements I received for doing double duties and being names Teacher of the Year were heartfelt. Every day someone came by to extend a considerate gesture from a word of confirmation to small snacks to Happy Hour invites. This year really helped the bond in our school community.

As I prepare to walk out the door for a much needed break, I wanted to focus on the good times. I wanted to remember all the things that went well. I needed to release everything that drained me. As a leave I am reminded I am good enough, smart enough and strong enough. I am amazing!

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