Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life You Want Weekend

I wouldn't seek out spending a weekend with Oprah.  Most people who know me, know that I love to spend time outdoors and I love to read.  I love to spend my time and money that way.  In May when my sister asked me to join her for the weekend, I didn't hesitate. I didn't consider the cost, time and money. If she was going to make all the arrangements, then I would definitely go along for the ride.  I had absolutely no expectations for the weekend except for wanting to have one good meal and have a good time with my aunt, sister, mom, and friend.

In a movie or in a book, the backdrop of rain and dark clouds would indicate that we were off to an ominous beginning as a front sat right down on typically sunny Miami, Friday.  We spent our day outside regardless of the weather trekking through O-Town.  We all waded through the mud, but my day started off right. I won a pair of $150 pants.  Wow!  I got lucky! Normally, I might spend $150 on a pair of sturdy sensible shoes or my entire wardrobe for the year. But that win was only the beginning.

What followed was an evening with Oprah where she kicked off  her keynote dissecting the composition of stars.  She ultimately led us to the idea that star material is what we are all made of. What a powerful message, especially one to bring back to students.  She then gave an overview of her life and what resonated most with me was how reading impacted her life.  She went to kindergarten as a reader and it was the caretaker in her life, her grandmother, that led her to that love.  She also told the story of how she loved The Color Purple so much that she carried around copies of it and gave it away to people who hadn't read it.  She loved it so much that she desperately wanted to be in that movie.  By no accident, she was. Her keynote left us full that night, full of inspiration, full of hope, full of the anticipation of more.

In the morning we were given an unexpected seat upgrade.  Although I didn't expect Oprah to stay all day when the rest of the speakers were they, I was delighted by the fact that she did facilitate the entire day.  We kicked off the morning with meditation led by Deepak Chopra.  We had a brief interlude with Elizabeth Gilbert, who waxed eloquently about Joseph Campell's theory of the monomyth and the importance of hero's story, especially for women.  A science and spirit lesson with followed.  Laughter, stories, and wisdom from Iyanla Vanzant closed out our afternoon.   The day was also interspersed with writing exercises with Oprah. (What I know for sure is that when Oprah looks over your shoulder to read your paper.  You better be ready to share.) I used Storify to capture my takeaways from their speeches.
Rob Bell

What I loved most was that I carried the energy and spirit of the event into my Monday...and into my Tuesday and I felt people such as my fellow teachers, administrators and students alike responding to my mirror neurons over the past two days.  I wonder how long I can sustain that sustain that energy and how I can foster it into my everyday living. I want that energy to last.  In the end, I want to thank my sister for organizing the trip and getting us to go. Often that first step is the hardest part. I'm glad she made it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sewing Adventure

My zombie 
Halloween is tricky in Florida. It can be in the eighties or sixties.  For many reasons not due to the weather, I've missed Halloween with my daughter. These absentee excuses include writing my dissertation, teaching night classes, and being in the hospital.  I have, however, always prided myself on her having a homemade costume.    Okay, maybe there are two exceptions, her frog costume, and her flapper costume, but she often decides what to be a year in advance and doesn't change her mind. My husband is an artist and can craft most of her costumes.  My favorite was the mermaid tail that he made by cutting metallic and green cupcake wrappers In half and attaching them to a skirt.

This year is the year of Greek mythology.  My daughter became obsessed Greek mythology by reading the Rick Riordan books and decided to be Artemis.  I am excited by her decision, because her reading life is fueling her imagination.  She has challenged me, however, to sew her costume. She doesn't believe I can do it. I know I can, but it won't be pretty. I did get that badge in Girl Scouts, where I am certified to make and do small things such as the bag made out of dish towels that you hang your mess kit out to dry in when you are camping or sew buttons. I often rely on tape for hems, forgetting to take it off before I put clothes in the dryer. 

 I do think my sewing blundering is a good life lesson for my daughter. We often make things we do as adults seem easy at home or at school and kids do not see the practice it takes to get there. It is important to let your children watch you struggle, learn, and  make mistakes. My daughter got a lot of that this weekend when I created a pattern and cut fabric to do a preliminary practice run for Skipper. I didn't account for the dimension of the doll. I cut out material in a pattern that would be better suited for a paper doll than a Barbie. I sewed the dress right on the doll. I did figure out what my mistakes were before I started with my kid-sized costume. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my stitches stay kid proof tomorrow during her Super Ball,  but what's most important were my openness to feedback and willingness to take a risk when I wasn't quite sure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


My aunt Joanie & daughter, last vacation together 
Less than a year ago, I lost someone special in my life, my aunt Joanie, an unforeseeable event occurred which life often brings. I didn't really know my aunt during my childhood.  She lived in Rhode Island and I lived in Florida.  I only saw her once at her first wedding when I was a fifth grader. Eight years later I would miss her second wedding because my dad died. I did, however, get to know her in my young adult life, get to know her well as her roommate.

My uncle still calls me "roomie" affectionately. My aunt and uncle relocated to Orlando in the early nineties and there our lives converged when I was 23.  Fresh out of college, I interviewed for my first teaching job in Orlando on a Friday, was offered the job on Sunday night and started Monday morning.  I needed a place to stay since I was currently residing in Jacksonville. She offered it. I joined her family, baby Kelsey and her husband, on Baker Street and stayed for two and half months.  That is what family does.

It is hard losing your parent at any age, but sticks with you when you are young.  My dad died quickly.  I remember him at the height of happiness, heading off on a vacation that he never came back from. I dropped two parents off at the airport and picked up one.  I didn't see my dad die.  I remember his laughter, his rosy cheeks, and his twinkling eyes.  It didn't happen that way for my two cousins. My aunt died slowly, yet swiftly as time flies.  Although I haven't had to do it, I believe it is harder watching your parent die slowly.  Cancer changes a person into someone you don't recognize on the outside and yet someone you do on the inside.  My aunt spent the last two months of her life in the hospital. The irony of my aunt's hospital stay was that her room overlooked the bridge we crossed together 8 months earlier toward the finish line of half marathon celebrating my other aunt's victory over breast cancer. My aunt Joanie wouldn't cross it on foot again.  She had a different bridge to cross. That is what blood cancer does.

After enduring rounds of chemo and blood transfusions over the holiday season, the new year brought the sentence of chemo-resistant transfusion-dependent leukemia, an insidious blood cancer. My aunt's life expectancy dwindled swiftly from "we will beat this" to "a matter of days to live."  She chose to spend her final days in hospice.  She welcome the last goodbyes and weathered the pain.That is what strength does.

Since  she passed, I've been on the lookout for double rainbows and dolphins, which is what she said she would send. Over the past eight months, I've seen more double rainbows than I have ever seen in my adult life.  I live inland so dolphins are pretty much out of the question unless I go to Sea World. It was at this time last year that she started noticing symptoms, but we wouldn't get a diagnosis until Thanksgiving.  This November, however, we won't be making visits to the hospital.  We will walk to celebrate her life in the the Light Up the Night walk. That is what the living does.

 Check out TEAM JEM and join us in any way you can.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nature Walk

It's 9:35 and I am home from open house. I didn't get my work done, but I need to post.  Never miss a Tuesday writing is my brain mantra much like never miss a Monday workout is my body manta. So I am drawing inspiration from images that I have captured from the great outdoors. 

1. Objects are as small as they appear. Although you have done something many times, pay attention to the details.  

Tiny perfect starfish on the shore of Crescent Beach, Florida.

Baby alligator snapping turtle found on the bikeway of Lake Baldwin on Sunday. We moved him\her to the grass. He\She was one of a few we found that morning.

2.  Are things feeling tired?  Are you going through the motions?  Perspective is everything. Change it! I have passed this bridge over 100 times by car. It is on the side of the road next too my school.  We turned right out of our school rather than left on our Friday weekly walk and discovered this cove.  Remnants of the swamp that my school was built upon. If we didn't changed our perspective, we wouldn't have noticed it.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Numbers Don't Add Up

We have approximately 3,150 students enrolled in our school.  We have a One Book, One Grade Level summer reading program where each grade level reads the same book and then they read a second book of their choice.  Based on the data I have gathered, I estimate that approximately only 21% of our student population outside of the IB junior and senior courses are participating in summer reading.
9th-12th grade check out data from our media center (MC) and purchases at Barnes and Noble (BN) are listed here.  The total number of students from 9 to 12 excludes the number of students enrolled in 11th & 12th grade IB as well as dual enrollment.  It is not totally scientific.  Just a snapshot of the data that I have.  
As I shared in my first post about summer reading and access, we had 150 copies for the ninth and tenth grade book and 120 copies of the 11th grade book.  All of the ninth grade books where checked out as were most of the tenth grade books.  We never ran out of 11th grade books and due to the changing titles each year for our 12th graders, we weren't able to purchase books.  Although we have books in our media center, I am not sure that we have enough books to get in all of our students' hands.

We work hard to inform our incoming ninth graders at our well-attended Freshman Fair in February about our summer reading requirements.  We send flyers home to our feeder schools.  We were able to get all of our books checked out at Freshman Orientation, a week before school started.  It is not surprising that freshmen read more since we seemed to work harder here, perhaps because they are farther away.

At school, we tried to do a sale at school before summer ended, but most students balked at buying a book.   I am not surprised, 75% of our students eat free and reduced lunch.  I have a few ideas about how to overcome that, but I think at this point, we are missing a  huge piece of data here...student voice!  What obstacles keep them from acquiring and then reading for summer.

When I taught ninth graders,100% of my students completed summer reading because I actually put a book into student hands. That, however, didn't mean they read over summer, rather they just couldn't opt out of participate in the summer reading book.  I think that is ok,  but what is the purpose of summer reading if kids aren't doing it?  I know the research and now summer reading matters. I read more in the summer than I do at anytime during the year as does my daughter.

What can we do as a learning community in May and June to frontload summer reading and continue throughout the summer to ensure that all of our students in grades 9-12 read?  How can  we work with parents to promote summer reading?  Sales peaked Barnes and Noble in June when we did a Connect-Ed home and perhaps we need to do that more often and just target specific groups of students.  I also wonder if we could do an at school or at Barnes and Noble summer event to get parents and students out. It is hard building a culture of reading outside of school during the school year and then sustain it throughout the summer. My next steps as literacy coach are to survey the students and the teachers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Fears, we all have them.  We shouldn't live defined by them, but they do hold us back, yet they also keep us safe.  I am afraid of heights, lightening, and enclosed spaces.  You won't see me voluntarily climbing walls or trees, but I will if needed.  You won't see me lingering outside during a lightening storm.  You won't see me shouting with glee when I have to crawl through tunnels.  My throat tightens up a little and my pulse races.  I breathe deep and talk myself calm. I have other fears too, ones that don't cause an obvious physiological reaction. I am afraid of hurting my ACL again and afraid to do the things that I once did before. I have yet to step foot on the ultimate field. I will, I am just not ready. When confronted with new exercise or life challenge, I fear how my blood glucose will react.  I can never be too prepared. This weekend I had the opportunity to face my fears. I completed the Great American Mud Run, a 5K with obstacles.  It took one hour and 51 minutes.  I might actually better label it my Great American Mud Walk, but I finished. I didn't hurt my knee.  I didn't go too low.  I didn't go around obstacles that required climbing or crawling.

The questioning and nagging doubts about my ability to complete this race  began while waiting in the line for parking. I contemplated just turning around and going home. I didn't.  I have done races alone before.  You talk to the people around you.  You push them; they push you.   You can' t imagine my delight when my friend Lee Ann texted me and said that she would join me.  Because it is different for me running a race alone; no one knows how to respond to a dia-mergency like my friends do.  I just feel  safer when I don't have to go it alone.

I negotiated several obstacles that challenged my fear of heights, low walls, a spider climb, and 3 story ladder and slide.  My strategy for successfully scaling them was to never look down.  In fact, the adrenaline kicks in when I begin to contemplate the getting down. What helped me down was the words of advice and the cheers of encouragement from random strangers.  Helping words and positive encouragement go far when someone is stuck in a hard place, farther than you think. This weekend they helped me over the spider wall.

I still carried fear that manifests as good sense or caution as a T1.  During the last portion of the race, my meter got waterlogged, It died after a trek in the muddy water where swimming was the better option. It was an error on my part, the only casualty of my day.  Honestly, I am just not that good at closing things, the refrigerator door, lids on jars, and Ziplocks carrying items that are not waterproof.  I was feeling good, however.  Just in case, I ate my remaining Sweet Tarts.  I had a plan of action.  Having a plan helped me manage my fear.

Participating in the Great American Mud Walk was the most fun that I have had in 2014, a sheer in the moment joy.  I don't know if my exhilaration came from the satisfaction of completing the event or my knowledge that we are stronger than we think we are.  We are stronger than our fears.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week

As a parent, I admit that I have a liberal perspective about what my kid can read. She started reading The Walking Dead comic books in 2nd grade with her dad, a consummate lover of comic books or graphic novels. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable with the content, zombies and violence, but she was reading with a trusted adult.  She read Divergent and the Hunger Games series last year as a fourth grader, because she was ready to read them on her own. We read Lois Lowry's The Giver together this past summer, because  we needed to talk about the issues that the book raised. I take a different approach in my classroom, however, based on my belief that teachers are "in loco parentis" during the day. 

We must always be mindful of our students, our purpose, and our community when we make instructional decisions about the books we choose to teach.  I always have sent a letter hime to parents at the beginning of the year to tell them about the diversity of books in my classroom library including content as well as let them share any values that I should be mindful of when recommending independent reading books to their child. 

My favorite often challenged book is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I once sat on a committee to review that book after a parent challenged the use of it for AP summer reading. A committee of twelve, with members from the community and teachers from different disciplines read or reread  the book, reviewed the complaints, and made a recommendation.  I found that in my rereading of the book, the first at age 20, the second at age 34, the book had evolved into a classic. We decided that the book should be read with teacher support during the year to address the issues that arise in the text.  The parents left satisfied that their concerns had been addressed and the teacher was satisfied that she could continue to use the book. We had a plan in place. Each school should have a protocol in place to deal with such issues when they arise. The best place to find help is here at NCTE's sitehttp://www.ncte.org/action/anti-censorship. 

After my experience on the committee, I made sure that I had a clearly defined purpose and rationale for teaching titles such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to my students.  What I discovered is that the details that we pay attention to as we read to ourselves independently differ from when we find ourselves reading a book aloud to our students or to an imagined audience. We must take care.