Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cause I'm a Worrier...

I roll over, grab my cellphone and squint my eyes a little to block the bright glow of the device that has become my constant companion.   It's four o'clock in the morning.  Ugh.  I have another hour and a half before the my constant companion rings me out of bed.  Why am I awake now? 

It could be because I'm feeling conflicted about so many "little gray cells" must be really tired of trying to resolve these things while I sleep.  In the dim haze of a rainy morning I worry on: 

Sadness that testing is such a focus of the last month of school for students and staff...
and guilty joyfulness every day when the standardized testing is over and it has gone relatively smoothly.

Feeling purposeful as I prepare teachers to give these tests...
and purposeless as I analyze the data; what do these numbers really say about/for kids? Us?

My ability to make a difference in the lives of students...
my perceived inability to make a difference in the daily lives of students.

Totally anticipating the long, slow days of summer...
while stressing that they will be over-planned, hectic, and gone too quickly.

The sheer number of evaluations I must write before the end of school...
and the length of time it takes to do each one.

The health of  a couple of very important people in my life...
and my lack of ability to help at all.

Turning 50 this summer....FIFTY?
I used to calculate how old I'd be when we started the new millennium (34!) and that seemed ancient.

Children, one back for the summer, life in his hands, me grappling with releasing the reins...
the other ready to launch, me holding on to her reins for dear life trying to slow things down.

These are the things that cause me to wake up in the gray light of dawn. 

I roll over, pull the covers up to my neck, and squeeze my eyes shut.  Just a few more minutes of sleep will help me, I'm sure. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Little Alone Time

Missed yesterday's blog opportunity - life was overwhelming - but I'm back at it today.

I'm in a unique position this evening - I'm home alone.  My hubby and two kids (teenagers, really, but I'll always consider them the kids) are at a Nats Game (Go Nats!) and I'm feeling deliciously free to set my own schedule.

Motoring home this afternoon I considered the possibilities of my evening:

  • I could work...which will be there tomorrow, for sure
  • I could escape into TV programs, that I don't usually have time to watch
  • I could visit a family member...which I really need to do
  • But...
I pressed the gas pedal a little harder in my anticipation, whipped the car into the parking lot of our local grocery, and bought a frozen dinner and a container of ice cream.  The freedom to choose without considering anyone else's needs, desires, or dislikes made me giddy.  

Unloading my groceries at the house, with only the dog to keep me company, I reveled in my ability to complete the silly tasks that sometimes drag me down.  The trash cans went out to the street, the dishes that were waiting for me got washed quickly, laundry was started.  And, I'm happily cooking my own skillet dinner, anticipating dessert and a glass of wine.   

Sometimes it's nice to set and take care of my own agenda.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Games of Chance

I have a guilty pleasure...I love to play Monopoly - not the board game that goes on for hours, with corrupted real estate dealings, but the game of chance, like the one our Safeway Supermarket has going on right now.

As soon as the game was advertised I picked up my colorful, paper game board at our local grocery and made my purchases, yielding six game pieces.  I grabbed the six green squares, gleefully, and raced out of the store to take a look at what I got.  After carefully spreading out the board, I opened the game pieces revealing four smaller pieces that can be stuck onto the board in groups (think the colors that tie the properties together.  Eek - how exciting!  I pasted all of my pieces down and marveled at how quickly I was filling up my board; then I headed back to Safeway.

My daughter and I were laughing about how much fun we were having with this game and scheming about getting the winning ticket - perhaps for the vacation home, maybe the college education, when Rebecca said, "Mom, I think my friend Sophia is playing too! What if we shared our extra tickets?" Because by now, we had bags of extra green tickets that we didn't want to throw away, just in case. We worked out a deal with Sophia - any extras, we'd exchange and if we hit the jackpot, we'd split it. And, I headed up to Safeway.  

Flash forward five weeks - my game board is very full now - but for every "property" section, I'm missing one piece that would complete the property and make me a winner...even a five dollar winner.  I'm determined to win something. I know we will win!  I contemplate driving to another state for a larger variety of tickets.  I head up to my Safeway.  Two tickets - no winners.

My hubby went to Safeway yesterday to stock up for the weekend and a special dinner. When I got home, 12 green tickets were waiting for me on the table. They are still there!  All of the sudden I don't want to go through the possibility of not winning, anything; I'm not willing to actually take the chance...until I head up to Safeway for a couple of things, and come home with a few more tickets, and I decide that I might just have a chance.  I'll open them up and...?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Challenges and Changes

I'm giddy - my oldest comes home from college on Friday!  So looking forward to seeing him and observing how much he has grown and changed over the last months.

I remember my first summer home - I hadn't been that far away (in the same city, really) but I hadn't been home much at all.  I guess we go to college to have different experiences and "try on" new personas and such.  Well, I came home spewing the f word... it was just part of my regular speech in college, i'm embarrassed to admit now.  WTF?  No F-ing way!

Perhaps having younger children still at home (like 13 years younger than me) made my mom especially sensitive to my foul mouth.  She took care of my problem though.  One afternoon after one to many curse words, she grabbed my arm and marched me into the bathroom.

"Pick up that bar of soap," she said with frustration.  "Now, put it in your mouth and bite it! That'll help you remember to clean up your language around here."

I can still taste dial soap in my mouth - what a brutal and highly effective consequence.

I am anticipating that my Freshman's arrival home will bring some interesting challenges - hopefully he will be smarter than me.  But mostly, I'm just looking forward to see him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Stressful Celebrations

The two of them stalked the short, gray-haired dance mom who walked the lost information from the results room to the results last dance, one last chance for a win.  

"Move aside, please," hollered the mom, pushing through the crowd of adolescent girls;  she struggled to be heard over the Irish jig lilting from the gym and the giggling, screaming, moaning crowd which parted reluctantly to let her through.

My Beautiful Dancer!
As the results were taped to the wall, I watched my dancer swing her arm around her best dance buddy's neck and the two closed their eyes in hope and in fear. The day had not been great for my dancer - three of four dances posted and no first places at all.  She had felt good in her dances - but her dances were huge and very competitive - and Irish dancing is notoriously subjective to judge.

Squeals emanated from where the two girls stood, arms pulled faces close and tight smiles appeared on their faces...something good had happened, but we couldn't tell what.  They turned toward the gauntlet of moms, and the best buddy yelled, "Rebecca got a first!"

Rebecca held on to her buddy tightly, looking relieved to have placed first, but also slightly guilty that she had something to celebrate and her friend did not.  Congratulations were passed around and she graciously, calmly, respectfully accepted these.  Finally, we headed out of the building, finished with Irish Dance Competitions for a month.

"Whoo, hoo, A First!
" she hollered after leaping into the car and slamming the door!  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stress Test...

Feeling tense this afternoon - stressed out - at odds with the world - close to tears. All day, in fact.  Why? Not exactly sure - but a drive in the car with my newly permitted daughter helped cure me.

  • I practiced my isometric exercises (I was clenching my fists, tightly) while Rebecca drove carefully (read really slowly) around the parking lot.  
  • I worked on repetition, that's supposed to relieve stress, right?  " Stop... ...stop ... stop now! Turn.... turn the wheel... turn the wheel now." 
  • My core is feeling very loved, as my stomach muscles were tensed for a full thirty minute window - without breaks!  Isn't that the same as doing a plank?

Well, after returning home, I'm relieved to say that I feel more relaxed - and she did very well driving.  I'm going to remember this method of relaxing....It's available to anyone else who might need a stress reliever, free - call me.  Please.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Gift of Writing

Dear Mom,

As I considered the topic for my blog post for the last day of March, the last day of the Two Writing Teachers "Slice of Life" Writing Challenge, I thought I might pen a post to one of my favorite readers, who has been on my mind so much during the last couple of months - YOU!

Just wanted to let you know how much we love you.  We have been shocked (and are probably still in denial, to a certain extent) by your diagnosis.  We worry very much about not being able to be closer: to make dinners, to give you a hug, to just be there for you and dad.  I've admired how strong you have sounded when we have spoken on the phone; I hope that in a similar situation that I will be able to respond with the grace and strength that you have displayed.  I love hearing that you and dad are such a team - that's reassuring and reminds me that meaningful relationships grow only stronger when challenged.

Because we can't be there physically, to help you through this - and you will get through it - I will try to keep writing on my blog on a weekly basis.  I hope this gift of writing proves entertaining, perhaps comforting, or at least distracting, or even like a written hug sent to you every Tuesday from the Smith family.

Thinking of you every day - and sending you thoughts and prayers for strength and serenity.

With much love,


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Madness*

  • I”m all a twitter
    Running the gamut
    Feeling like a middle school student myself...
    A troubling glimpse

    Under a severe misconception,
    A guilty pleasure: celebrate spring

    The five question challenge – taken
    Five questions, part two
    Feeling thankful,
    Full circle

    Anticipating the wearing of the green
    I'm a survivor,
    A local hero and a lucky opportunity

    Even in Australia
    Everyday inspiration
    Driver's Ed – Eek

    Spring in like a lion
    Yes, I read the tidying book, but...
    A little distance is a good thing

    A change in mentality
    Remembering the Seventies:
    Ain't nothing but a hound dog

    You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy,
    Growing up
    By the light of the silvery moon

  • *These are the titles of my posts this month, in order, with only some punctuation added.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By the Light...of the Silvery Moon

Yesterday I hit the snooze button a couple of times before dragging myself out of bed.  Today I was determined to get out of bed and get moving.  The harp alarm on my phone strummed me gently awake and my feet pushed out from under the covers and planted themselves on the floor.  My body followed, standing tall for a stretch in the dark of pre-dawn.  I'm up and moving!

That's really impressive, I thought, up and going and it's so bad. Jerking the comforter and sheet up to the head of the bed, I felt the buzz of early morning productivity begin: I ran through my schedule for the day, what I was having for breakfast and packing for lunch, and any issues I anticipated. Then I moved around the foot of the bed, toward my husband's side.

There in the middle of the floor was a beautiful window of light, literally, it looked like a window glowing on the floor.  Each window section was visible because the light shining in was so bright.  What in the world? I thought.  The neighbors have a spotlight on us?  Then I glanced up and out of the window and observed the brightest half moon that I have ever seen glowing in the sky.  I felt lucky to be up and moving - and have had the opportunity to see that beautiful moon and my window on the floor.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Growing Up

Being a teenager is hard...It's a tough time in life, and there seem to be so many pressures on teens, both external and internal.  This morning after a tough evening, though, I was so proud of my sixteen year-old girl. I met her at the high school to participate in her annual 504 review; for this, a whole group of educational professionals, Rebecca and myself analyze how she is doing and reflect on how the school could better meet her needs. After the welcome, the counselor proceeded to report out from each of her teachers on grades, attitude, behavior, interpersonal skills, attendance, etc.  This can be a harrowing experience for parents and students to sit through, as teachers can sometimes be brutal in their phrasing of challenges or weaknesses. This morning, however, Rebecca participated fully in the meeting - acknowledging her weaknesses and smiling at the many strengths that teachers pointed out, as well as brainstorming ways that she could possibly reach out to teachers to advocate for herself. Amazing to watch, and incredible to consider just how far we've all come.    

Sunday, March 27, 2016

You are Not in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy

I happen to love the colonial style of village and house that you find in Southern Virginia.  Today we drove through Fredericksburg while picking up and dropping of  child #1 at college after our short Easter get-together, and I admit I had location envy.  A lovely downtown area, small enough to walk and paralleling the rushing Rappahannock River, was filled with intriguing restaurants and antique stores that were exploding with ancient goodies. Just a few blocks into town, deep red brick-style homes with painted black or white shutters and steep roof lines drew my awe, as did colorfully painted Victorian-style homes with crisp, clean trim and the occasional turret.  So did the large, white, plantation-style homes with black shutters and sturdy white columns supporting the porches. I spent some quiet time happily playing the "If I lived here, I'd live in that house..." game.

I was startled back into reality, however, when a camo-wearing, cigarrette-smoking young man drove by in a souped up truck with huge tires and a confederate flag firmly planted in the bed of the truck.  There's always one, I thought as we pulled ahead.  Then, I spotted a sweet cottage that looked right out of a Civil War movie set, wooden logs caulked with a white daub, frilly curtains hanging in the glass-paneled windows. My neck craned, as we drove by, trying to read the historical marker, and I was shocked to see a confederate flag hanging over the garage door.  I slumped down in my seat, shaken. We are in The South I said to myself, as if that made it ok.  We swung onto 95N and after watching a few minutes worth of trees flash by, a huge confederate flag waved gently on right hand side of the road, as if saying goodbye and sending us back to the north.  I'm struggling a bit with what these sightings might mean, but for sure, the town doesn't look quite as idyllic to me.     

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog...

I never grew up with a dog, so I don't consider myself a dog person, but I knew that having a pet could be an important learning experience for kids;  so when a middle-aged beagle needed to be adopted at school, I encouraged my husband to consider adding her to our family.

Living with a beagle, whose bad habits were pretty definitely formed, has been interesting.  She's a hound, so her nose is her reason for being.  Taking a walk with Canela means weaving from one side of the sidewalk to the other while she sniffs down the animals who have previously walked, hopped, or crittered by. If I'm not paying attention, my arm will be jerked out of its socket when she abruptly stops to bury her nose in the grass.  And bury it she does.  When she is on to a scent her head bobs up and down, and when she finds it, down to the dirt and roots it goes and she snurfles around until....I'm not sure what happens, but she's finished and we move on. If I want to move on first, I have to use my teacher voice and be quite stern with her.  

In the morning when I let her out for her constitutional she stands at the top of the steps, sniffs and surveys her kingdom, and then she proceeds to explore every inch. I'm thinking she's tracking any changes.  She nose knocks at the back door when she's ready to come in - and her breakfast is usually ready.  Then her inner puppy escapes and she scrambles for the bowl, nails skittering and slipping on the floor, thrilled to have her kibble and peanut butter treat.

Because beagles are so driven by their nose, a friend once said to me: "They aren't people dogs first..." and he was somewhat regretful that we had ended up with Canela.  He's right - she's hard to train and the instinct to bark and escape to follow her nose are primary in her walnut size brain.  I'll tell you another time about how many times we have recovered her from the neighborhood!  But, on a lovely afternoon such as this, as I sit by the pond slicing, she lays down beside me, as if acknowledging our bond.  These little gestures come more and more, and confirm for me that she understands she's an important member of our pack.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembering The Seventies

"Ok - I was alive in The Seventies," I admitted to my daughter, "but I was in elementary school during most of it - so I don't remember much."  

"Mom, then you have to watch That Seventies Show, just to remember."  She clicked on Netflix and there appeared many, many seasons of the show.  She's a real stickler for starting from the beginning of a series, so Rebecca selected Season 1, Episode 1, and she, Matt and I hunkered down around her computer screen eating leftovers for dinner and grinning at each other.

And, there were some things that came back to me about being alive in the Seventies:  
  • Big collars - everyone had them.  I had an orange shirt that I adored, which had a huge white collar attached!  They don't look as bad as I remembered.  
  • Hair that flipped.  I remember my Dorothy Hamill haircut - loved that, should have kept it.  Instead, I got cool in seventh grade and bought a curling iron to help my bangs become wings...Why take straight hair and try to curl it?  Why only the bangs?  
  • Corduroy pants of many colors, with wide legs.  I loved the noise they made as I swished to school. 
  • Kodak huts in the parking lots of strip malls where you could drop your film off to be developed.  My cousin worked in one of those and we thought it was the coolest job!
  • And, family dinners - despite the fact that both parents worked on that show, they managed to sit down for family dinners on a regular basis.  That's something that I remember well, Mom in the kitchen and all of us kids helping to get dinner ready.  It's also something that we have been able to enjoy with our kids.  
After a couple of episodes and dinner eaten, Rebecca headed out to hang with friends, Matt headed upstairs to read and snooze, and I sat down to enjoy a few more episodes of That Seventies Show.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Change in Mentality

Today I had set aside time to work on two things:  First, addressing a transportation problem with one of our school buses, and second, exploring some PD for myself.  I had some PD in mind: I've joined an instructional leadership online community which provides me some options, but the first thing I do when I get to my office in the morning is check my email, and checking this today changed my plans.  EdWeek sent me a link to videos from the Leaders to Learn From Conference which occurred in DC just recently.  Intrigued, I opened the email and clicked on the link to Carol Dweck's presentation about the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset and how that impacts motivation.  

Dweck is an engaging speaker, easy to understand and adept at throwing a quip here and there to keep the audience hooked.  And, her content is so compelling!  I had heard of the Growth Mindset - but hadn't spent anytime exploring it in depth.  This brief introduction has me considering the problem of motivation at the middle level and wondering if teaching students about the growth mindset, as well as providing them the tools and strategies they need to understand their brain and how it works, might counter the "school just happens to me" attitude that is alive and well.  I also wonder how it might change the culture in our school, which leans still (despite many wonderful growth-oriented teachers) towards a deficit mindset for our students.

Found the book in my professional library - yes, I already owned it - and brought it home to read.  Have any of you had success with this?  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Little Distance is a Good Thing!

One of my tasks this week, while students and teachers are on Spring Break, has been to take a look at our district discipline guidelines, determine inconsistencies, challenges that have arisen with the guidebook when disciplining middle school students, and alignment with the state school disciplinary guidelines and statutes. Doesn't that sound fun?

My AP colleague and I took on this task today and I was struck by how easy it is to discuss discipline and consequences in the absence of children.  What a contrast this is to my lived experience in which I'm trying to determine a young person's intent, level of regret and responsiveness, all framed by my major philosophical focus which has been - what can you learn from this experience, and how can I help you not repeat it?   There they sit, in the blue chair opposite me, looking calm, bedraggled, glum, defiant, nervous, and/or oblivious. It is sometimes hard to predict how they will respond when we've determined the appropriate consequence; I had one young man cheer the other day when he got in-school suspension. Typically I ask them what they think would be an appropriate way to repair the situation and what consequence would help them learn from this mistake - and they are far harder, most times, than I would be.

Today, while talking about discipline situations in the abstract, I couldn't help but think about the regular visitors to my office and hope that they are having a great spring break.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Yes, I Read the Tidying Book, But...

Spring break is the opportunity for a Spring Cleaning...and I warned my family, "There will be drawers pulled out and cleaned that haven't been cleaned in years!"  Saturday I was very productive...I sorted through file drawers and children's cubbies, throwing away years of accumulated school papers, dentist bills, and other detritus from 12 years of living in the same house.

Sunday I vowed (out loud, to my husband) that I would attack my walk-in closet.  When we built the addition with the larger master bedroom, two walk-in closets, and master bath I was thrilled to have so much space.  However, in the last twelve years I think I have mostly moved items into the addition and rarely taken anything out. There is a goldfish metaphor in here somewhere...My closet is full of clothes, folded, hanging and artfully draped; as well, I store all of our fancy clothing (long dresses, tuxedos, and dress coats) and my personal files from years gone by.  Finally, I do keep two large bins full of possible gifts - you know, those gifts you buy because they are great deals or perfect for someone, and then you forget about them?  I have done that lots, unfortunately, and the result takes up a large section of this small room.  

So I walked into the closet, cleared the artfully draped clothing from the floor and put it in laundry baskets. Then I sat down on the step stool, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that I would have to touch multiple times in order to clear any space, and not knowing where to start. Despite my good intentions (finding dresses to donate, giving away clothes I don't wear to a better home, and just throwing away stuff) I crept out to my book found my reading glasses and escaped from the clutter for another day.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring in like a Lion

There is something
about a glass of red wine
in the late afternoon of a
frigid, blustery first day of spring

Sipping quietly while Matt cooks
in the kitchen, the smooth tones
of Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis fame,
crooning on the radio

Knowing that I don't have
to blast out of here at 6:30 tomorrow
morning is incredibly freeing,
so I will relax and enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Driver's Ed...Eeek

Dropped my daughter off this morning for her first Driver's Education class - not "Behind the Wheel" yet - that comes next.  After her 3.5 hour class I get to join her for the two hour parent and student class. She is totally pumped about this class, I'm slightly more wary - and becoming more concerned as I reflect on two things that happened this morning:  1.  I was a terrible driver getting her to class this morning.  Coffee cup in one hand, I wheeled the SUV around with the other - totally not modeling good driving behavior. and 2.  Rebecca said to me this morning, "Sophia is such a old granny type of new driver. It drove me nuts!"  My response:  "Granny drivers are perfect!  I expect you to be a granny driver!"

I'll let you know how class goes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Everyday Inspiration

After hearing Dr. Taylor speak about the importance of our young students hearing success stories of local people, people they might know or interact with on a daily basis, I was reminded of a story from a family member of one of my students.  

Sitting in a parent conference, a father, special education teacher, general education teacher and speech teacher and I were gathered to determine how to best meet the needs of this particular student. Reading is a struggle for this young one, contributed to by a weakness in working memory, decoding and fluency issues, as well as processing. The team commended this parent on his child's commitment and desire to succeed, often two traits that are already buried for young people who have reached sixth grade not reading on grade level, and we encouraged him to continue the work he and mom have done supporting the child to read and value the benefits of an education.  

He leaned back, then, and in a gravelly voice told us the story of his motivation: a comment from a fellow inmate in the penitentiary, teasing him about the success of his children in school by saying, "You think maybe your kids will graduate before you do?" His voice filled with pride when he said, "But I did it. On my birthday my  prison teacher handed me an envelope.  I opened it, and inside was my GED." 

For all of us, there was a moment of silence; the enormity of his accomplishment, and everything else wrapped up in that story, was stunning...and inspiring. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Even in Australia!

You know the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?  Today was that day for me.  For years I have read that book to students (middle school) and we all have been able to relate - Judith Viorst's language is simple, yet strong; her message - bad days happen, anywhere, so transferable. My seventh and eighth graders have loved that read aloud, and I've benefited from reading the story over and over again.

So tonight I'm going to pull out my autographed copy of Alexander and reinvigorate myself with the trials and travails of my favorite character.  No, thank goodness, there is no gum in my hair.  I didn't have lima beans for dinner, cuz I hate limas - and there has been no kissing on my escapist TV program.  I did deal with fat lips, fists and calling parents; bad language, disgruntled adults, and challenging children.  The copy machine may have been a problem. I think I hit send on my first response, rather than delete, and I lectured to a group of exhausted teachers - never a good PD option.

Today was a tough day; but, it is reassuring to know that some days are like that, even in Australia.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Local Hero - and a lucky opportunity

I'm missing the classroom this evening - it happens fairly often.  But today it's because I had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a wonderfully entertaining local man, Dr. Alfred Taylor, who shared with us a book he's written about local heroes of color from one of the oldest neighborhoods in Arlington.  The premise of his discussion today was that students need to hear the "stories" of the amazing people in their families and communities - not just the stories of successful sports stars and musicians.  He emphasized that families these days don't necessarily spend time telling these stories - and that schools should.  The best role models for students are people they can relate to and "see" in the communities we live in.

I totally came away from this presentation jazzed about getting students to explore their communities and then write the stories of the people they would like to celebrate as local heroes.  Can't you just see a unit or a workshop in which kids are interviewing, organizing, drafting and revising local hero stories?

Interestingly, this local author also suggested that we each should be writing our autobiographies, because if we don't, someone else is going to write our obituaries...and they may not highlight the things you think are important.

So many possibilities, and golden lines came from his presentation.  Feeling lucky to have heard him.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I'm a Survivor (Apologies to Destiny's Child)

Yesterday, suffering from extreme writer's blah, I scrolled back through my early years of participating in the TWT Slice of Life Challenge.  I was struck by how many entries were about my son as a seventh grader: struggling with getting him to complete homework, noting his complete transformation from happy, even mischievous elementary school student to withdrawn, hair over his eyes, sulky pre-teen, and my lack of ability to see much beyond this stage for my first child, despite years of experience teaching middle school and actual students who were proof to me that most survive middle school and successfully move forward in life.

These memories were especially striking as Patrick came home from college for the weekend and he hung out with the family for an extended period of time (between visits with friends and his girlfriend.) Typically when he's been home we haven't see him before noon - and he's spent most of his free time holed up in his room on the computer playing some game. Over this weekend, however, I saw spontaneous smiles from him, and much, much more of him - at family movie night, the St. Pat's Parade, breakfast with the family!  At the end of the weekend I drove him back to school, happy to have some one on one time, during which he bemoaned the current political situation, expressed engagement in and enjoyment for his classes, especially social anthropology, and reminisced about how challenging middle and high school had been for him socially. I spent my drive back reflecting on how confident he was, how mature he seemed, and how lucky I was to be able to see the beginnings of his transformation.  

Today, in meeting with a parent regarding her challenging seventh grade son, I listened carefully to her worries and concerns, acknowledged her fears, and assured her that the frontal lobe does finally develop fully and she too will look back on middle school with the attitude of a survivor. More importantly, perhaps, He's a Survivor!    

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Anticipating the Wearing of the Green!

Even on a cloudy day, threatened by rain, there is nothing like a parade to lift the spirits.  DC's annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade was held this morning, and, as has become tradition, I usually end up slicing about it here.  Over the years we have experienced snow, sunburns and rain - today was just gloomy, thank goodness.

After dropping my Irish dancing daughter off at her parade staging location, my son and I proceeded down Constitution Avenue to the American History Museum.  There were no shortage of curbs for us to perch on today, and Patrick and I spent the early part of the parade chatting and people watching as well as observing signs of spring.  Daffodils were exploding in the grass, brighter than normal because of the gray day.  Behind us, lines snaked out the doors as people waited to get through security into the museums.  And our green-enshrouded, fellow parade watchers kept leaning into the road, checking to see if anything was coming.

The National Anthem signaled the start of the parade and was quickly followed by the piercing sirens of the DC Police force coming towards us on motorcycles with sidecars attached.  We didn't have long to wait until the DC Fire Department Pipe and Drum Corp marched by - the bagpipes sounding beautifully haunting. St. Patrick walked by, looking chilly in his leather strap sandals, but jovial just the same.  I nudged Patrick reminding him of the special connection he has with this Saint of Irish legend. Finally our Irish Dancer jigged into view along with her dance friends and teammates.  Swirls of bright dresses and curls of all colors swept by us dancing in time with the music.  Toes tapped and smiles abounded on all the dancers, the drivers and the audience alike.

Once she danced by, our job was to get to the end of the parade fast to pick her up.  Patrick and I raced down the street, dodging parade watchers and criss-crossing the street to get closer.  Once past the grandstand in front of the White House, the dancers pull to the side of the road and take a rest - or at least, that's what I thought they did.  When we reached Rebecca she and her buddies were dancing the Cupid Shuffle on the float, no Irish moves to be seen.

She was ebullient as we walked away from the float - and the rest of us were feeling good too.  Nothing like a day at a parade!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Full Circle

I have to admit I was nervous.  It's not often these days that I head into totally unknown waters...but I did on Thursday.  I'm not a competitive swimmer, have only sat on the sidelines occasionally when required to be the Admin at a meet, and I don't really understand the logistics of how a swim meet gets scored.  So, when our Activities Coordinator suggested that I could have the wrestling meet or the swim meet, my first instinct was to take wrestling where I could sit on the sidelines and cheer.  But I could see how much he wanted to be there - so I offered to head to swimming.  He typed up a quick run down of how the meet works, and sent me on my way with extra timers and newly sharpened pencils. My tasks were to get parents to time, collect and organize scores, and maintain the team score sheets while our coaches kept the kids swimming and cheering for the team.

When I knocked on the door of the pool, not even really knowing how to get in, a vaguely familiar face appeared to let me in.  "Ms. E. Smith?  What're you doing here?" said the beard-covered face.

"Kevin?"  I gasped,  "What're you doing here?"

"I teach PE here at the high school and coach middle school swimming!"  And I remembered that he had swum competitively when he had been a seventh grader in my English class.  Long-legged and long-armed, he had been all loose body parts in seventh grade with a shock of blond hair on top, chlorine bleached, and skin that was permanently tanned.  He had a quick smile back then, and I could see that same smile in the man face that looked down on me.

We spent a few minutes catching up, then I admitted I had no idea what I was doing; that my experience helping run a swim meet was non-existent.  "Don't worry about it," he said. "I'll let you know what to do."

And that quick, the tables turned, my teaching life had come full circle.  I was going to be fine at this swim meet - I would have a great teacher.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Feeling Thankful

I haven't felt myself since I had the flu.  I returned to work determined, though, to "pretend" myself to feeling normal, a common coping mechanism for adults everywhere.  My pretending ended this afternoon when, leaving an IEP meeting close to the end of the school day, I knew for sure that I had to get home, and fast.  I was nauseous, sweaty and light-headed; I felt like I was going to faint.

Speedwalking to my office, I brushed by the large number of boys sitting there, each looking with wide, dreading eyes at me, let my AP colleague know I wasn't feeling well, and I dashed back toward the main entrance.  Because I'm a rule follower, I stopped by our head secretary to let her know I was leaving, and in the nicest way possible she informed me that I wasn't leaving the building and getting into my car feeling the way I was.  She sat me down in her visitor's chair, told me she was getting the nurse, and then proceeded to have my husband called to pick me up.  

What is it about having other people take care of us that is so hard?  I have to admit, when she returned and told me Matt was on the way my eyes filled with tears. When two other people on staff volunteered to get my car home, I was floored.  We educators spend so much time taking care of  other people, it sometimes feels difficult to let others take care of us.  

This evening, recovering from dehydration, I feel so thankful for the wonderful group who took care of me today (and do so many days.)  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Five Questions Part Two

What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
I’ve got to get back focused on being in classrooms and having conversations with teachers about teaching. If I could get into every teacher’s class six times before the last day of school, that would be amazing.

I would like to figure out where I’m going next – this involves lots of reflection on my personal strengths and weaknesses, along with some careful analysis of the needs of the district and schools.

I’d like to be more organized with some of the efforts that we are undertaking- communicating, reaching out, and saying thank you and great job to those who are working so hard to make school an amazing place to live and learn.

Give four reasons why you remain in education despite today’s rough culture.
It is very easy to be tempted (and I am daily) by the draw of a simpler, less controversial job. I often think I’d have made a great secretary: I can be very welcoming! Or maybe a McDonalds clerk, "Would you like fries with that?" But the reality is – I got into this to make a difference in children’s lives – and it is the main reason I stay.  Most of the time, I enjoy the adults that I work with – I find the relationships that I am able to have both collegial and rich. As well, I enjoy the opportunity to mentor staff and support them in their goals and initiatives.  I still believe that education is the answer for improving lives, everyone’s. And, I really, really, enjoy teaching things to people.

Which five people do you hope will take this challenge by answering these questions?
My amazing Writing Group of thoughtful, reflective and supportive teachers who write and writers who teach: Tracey (who already has), Mary, and Leah – as well as any Slicer who might want to reflect.  It's a great learning experience.  

Thanks for those of you who read and responded!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Five Question Challenge - Taken!

Five Questions
I was recently tagged by another educator to take part in a semi-viral blogging challenge. The task is relatively simple: write a post answering five general questions about your teaching practice. It should come as no surprise that the value comes from my writing and thinking - this writing is mostly for me!  But, I'm delighted to have the opportunity to share with Slicers.   

What has been your one biggest struggle this school year?
My biggest struggle this year has been between my desire to be in classrooms working on instructional leadership and the “day-to-day” of my life that interferes with this. My research continues about how to best work with teachers to support growth and reflection; earlier this year I participated in an “Instructional Leadership Challenge” that focused on the idea that the best way for me, as an instructional leader, to be able to increase student achievement, support teacher growth and be more knowledgeable about the professional development that different staff members might need is to be in classrooms more. In fact, the program suggests that I should be in the classrooms of those I supervise for 10-15 minute walkthroughs every two weeks. 

This is a struggle because I find myself very reactive to situations that I find on my doorstep: discipline issues, really long team meetings, CLT meetings, and the supervision of multiple lunch periods, daily. Add in to this, 13 probationary teachers – for whom I must do an additional observation before March 18th – and a week and a half of snow days (although I’m not really complaining), and I’m behind in everything. Finding the balance among these things – but staying focused on being in classrooms talking with teachers, interacting with students, and keeping my finger on the pulse of teaching and learning at Jefferson – this is my goal.

Share two accomplishments that you are proud of this school year.
Ok – I was proud, earlier, of the more consistent walkthrough schedule that I had been able to get on. It was exciting to be in classes, and I saw such wonderful learning experiences for students. I had a couple of comments from teachers that they were glad to see me as well – and nice conversations focused on instruction ensued. Now – I’m wishing to get back to this.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the amount of work I have done with a few of the eighth graders that I supervise (and have since sixth grade). This group of eighth graders is the first group I have worked with for all of sixth, seventh and much of eighth grade. It has been really rewarding (perhaps only in the last couple of weeks) to see students begin to make their own decisions, or perhaps be able to reflect on their decisions, and verbalize what worked or what they might have done differently. Today in particular I met with a young man who stormed out of his English class when the teacher responded in a way that made him angry. I gave him a few minutes to calm down – and when he told me he was ready he ran me through the situation. I asked a few pointed questions, and when he turned to me and said “I might have highlighted and turned the paper in in a rude way,” and then he concluded that the teacher might be frustrated as well…this was a huge step forward. He developed a plan for how he was going to handle this situation - and he implemented it before the day was out.  It is exciting to see signs of maturity and growth.

I'll share the rest tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A guilty pleasure - Celebrating Spring

I'm feeling better - finally.  In fact, this afternoon I'm feeling good enough to sit on the back deck and enjoy spring's arrival.  Perhaps because of the nakedness of the trees, there are plenty of signs to observe. Multiple varieties of birds are twittering and chirping, intently communicating what I'm sure is joy.  Eleven plump goldfish have flickered gently to the top of our little pond, exploring the change in weather, unfazed by possible flying predators.  Two squirrels, reveling in the warmth, chase each other round and round the large Maple tree in the neighbor's yard, until one slumps his body along the warm length of a branch to rest.

And our dog barks - reminding the world that she is the mistress of this place, its protector and guardian. Regularly she walks her ground, sniffing to ensure all is as it should be, rustling under the shed, stopping to woof familiarly at the neighbors. Mostly, though, she sits on the top step, royally observing all of us below.

I think we are all joyful that spring is in the air.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Under a severe misconception

Some of you might remember that I posted yesterday about helping my flu-ridden sister with her kids on Friday.  Yesterday I went to a party and all of the grownups were discussing the stomache flu racing through families and schools.  A couple of us joked that it couldn't be all bad - most people lose some weight, and a quick way to do that is awesome.

I. Was. So. Wrong.


Saturday, March 5, 2016


I miss my kids being little - luckily I get to spend time with my nieces and nephews who are all between 0 and 10.  Last night I helped my younger sister (who has the flu) and her three kids with the evening transition from daycare to bed.  These things helped me get my little kid fix:

-neatly organizing plates with miniature pancakes, small pieces of banana, and  bowls of yogurt in the middle
-pouring sippie cups of milk
-highchairs and bibs
-warm skinny bodies pulled up onto my lap, my arms wrapped around waists and under legs
-reading books out loud, making funny voices, and asking silly questions
-little fingers connecting the freckle dots on my hands while listening
-smiling faces, turned to me, lit up in shared enjoyment of the pictures and words
-sleepy eyes drifting downward, snapping open when the book is finished
-pleas for more "book, book!"

In the car on the way home my heart just ached for my own little ones and the hugs and snuggles and books we shared over the years. Opening the back door, I found two teenagers and their dad arguing the finer points of some obscure issue that was important to them.  We gathered around the kitchen table, plates in our hands, the nineteen year-old perched on the back of his chair, the sixteen year-old with her feet draped across my lap, enjoying the brief opportunity to "snuggle" together.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Troubling Glimpse

Schools and hospitals give a glimpse into an interesting cross section of people in our world.  Today I got to experience another great cross section in the DMV.  Despite the fact that the DMV has gone computerized and systematized...there was a heck of a lot of waiting around time, and watching the people around me come and go was a fascinating look into many different worlds.

The family next to me, with the two young girls who ran around freely (which I envied) and screamed at a b# the whole time (which I resented) were obviously from Eastern Europe some where - and from my observations they were very concerned about the wife passing the vision test for her license. She returned to the funny binoculars multiple times and repeated the random letters over and over.  I don't know how that ended - but I hope it ended ok.

A number of teenagers were there, obviously, to get their permit or license.  They continued to glance around, under long bangs, with a slight aura of fear around them.  They were easy to pick out as they were accompanied by a middle-aged mom, streaks of grey hair just beginning to show - looking more nervous than their child.  This look, I can relate to.

Finally, it seemed almost every DMV worker looked exhausted.  The woman I spoke to first was pleasant, but too tired to make small talk - her half-hearted smiles suggested that I might have gotten more response earlier in the day.  Three o'clock on a Friday afternoon was not going to get me any favors.  To cap the day, the final employee that I spoke to was not just unpleasant - she was nasty - and the bad news she shared, with a snarky "You Failed" was devastating.  This is one of the hardest jobs in the country?  And, really, that's how you are going to pass on bad news?

I do enjoy experiences that allow me the opportunity to look outside the "traditional" windows of my world.This experience encourages my appreciation of the world around me, and the people who keep smiling through the crap that continues to be thrown at them.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Feeling like a middle school student myself!

The two piercing beeps startled the class.  The social studies teacher and I glanced at each other, eyebrows raised; an announcement at this time of day? our expressions read.  Immediately I worried - what's gone wrong?  The principal's voice broke the eerie silence, "Sorry for this interruption.  Because of the weather forecasts for tonight and tomorrow morning we wanted to update you in advance..."  Seventh graders literally crossed their fingers as her voice continued, "And, because middle schools have an early release, if there is a two hour delay, school will be cancelled."

There was a stunned moment - then cheers rang through the room. When the final bell rang to dismiss, students went out high-fiving and calling "See you Monday."

I was right in there with them! One more snow day would be just perfect!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Running the Gamut

There are some days that run the gamut of emotions - I wish I could predict those days, cause I might better prepare myself for them.  Sadly - that is not an option.  It would have been nice to be prepared for today's emotions.

The day began with Anguish - a Mother's as she spoke to me about her son and his challenges both at home and at school.  How can we work together to support? Then,
Fear - He was arrested?  Seriously?  He was doing so much better.  What happened?  What's going to happen?
It moved into Empathy - again, a Mother as she spoke to me about her daughter, who is scared of the lengths to which she might go to be "done."  This will rest on my shoulders, she threatens.
Frustration - with a student who always finds a way to get involved in drama.  Every day, for the last two weeks, he has been at the center of some problem - it feels serious, it feels unrelenting, it feels like something that could be avoided. I haven't been able to change behavior yet. Two hours in the office this afternoon.
Anger - heated discussion with family members, short temper, loss of mine.
Not much on the positive end of emotions today - hence the short temper, I'm afraid.
Some days are like that...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I'm all a "Twitter"

This evening I had the opportunity to participate in a twitter chat with author Daniel Pink!  "Hearing" his voice (and his questions) was very exciting.  It's not every day that I get to chat with an author I admire.

So, I didn't feel this way when I began participating in twitter chats - I found them overwhelming and unwieldy.  The conversation moved fast, and I couldn't keep up. Who was tweeting?  What does RT mean?  How do I respond to the question?

Tonight I find that I am totally energized by the experience of twittering (is that used correctly?). Participating in such a mobile, quickly-changing style of conversation, has left me enervated - edgy- and excited.  The pace of the conversation was FAST!  My computer was chiming, my phone was buzzing, really - I think I'm on overload a little bit.

Oh yeah, and the content was really good.  I totally recommend it.  #APSChats - Tuesday nights, 8:00 PM Eastern Time!