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My Blog Life

Hi, and welcome to my blog page!  I will be blogging about a variety of topics, so to make browsing easier, I have separated the blog into various categories. You’ll find these categories under the “My Blog” portion of the main menu and also on the footer of the website.

“Mom Life” (and its sub categories) are posts about life as a mom. These may be funny, whimsical, sappy, frustrations, heartache, and everything in between that comes along with being a mom.

“School Life” includes all things related to my life as an assistant principal. There are some subcategories here, so be sure to check those out as well.

“Kind Life” posts are my efforts to becoming a more kind person myself and also spreading kindness to our youth and across the interwebs.

“Quote Life” – I love a good quotation. Sometimes I’ll want to write about it. You’ll find those posts under this category.

I hope you enjoy at least one portion of my blog! Thank you so much for visiting, please come back again!

-Megan

What Does An Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?

Preface

Recently, I was doing my usual nightly scroll through Twitter. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to seeing the most ridiculous headlines fly by without giving it much thought. In an instant we decide if something is worthy of our attention, or if we toss it into the never ending pile of “junk” that we don’t care to read. Many of the tweets in my feed are related to education – I follow a myriad of educators that I admire on Twitter. Many of the tweets in my feed are also political – I find it important to try to stay informed. If you’re familiar with the political and educational climate in Kansas, you also know that one cannot talk politics without talking education.

was a bit taken aback when I came across this article – where Kansas governor candidate Kris Kobach indicated he believes that education in Kansas is top heavy, and schools do not need the amount of assistant principals they currently have. He incorrectly stated that one Wichita high school has 12 assistant principals. A spokesperson later corrected the statement to say that between two Wichita high schools there are 12 administrators, but they stood by the sentiment that this was still too many, and that this was excessive and top-heavy. Kobach claims that more money needs to be spent in the classroom – on teachers salaries and “on the computers and books.” Before I go much further, I think it’s important that I note a couple of things. 1) I do not disagree with the sentiment that more money needs to be pumped into teachers and into resources. We actually agree on this. I think we disagree in how this should happen, but nonetheless, we agree on it. 2) Politically, I’m always evaluating where I stand, reflecting on what’s happening, and try to stay level headed, and use… common sense. I find that common sense is found on both sides of the political divide, and I align myself differently for different issues. I believe in treating others with dignity and respect. I do believe we currently live in a society where extremists on both sides’ main goal is to pit people against one another instead of coming together for commonalities and seeing past the red or blue that too often defines who we are and what we stand for.

Now that I have that out of the way,  I want to revisit one quote I can’t get out of my mind from the article I linked up earlier, where Kobach is quoted as saying, “My high school had one assistant principal, and I didn’t know what that guy did.”  I’ll be honest here – the fact that he is seemingly basing his opinion of what assistant principals do (or don’t do) on what he observed as a student in high school is a bit absurd. I think I stand for several APs when I say, for those who believe we don’t do anything, if you were to shadow us for a week, day, or even an hour, you just might leave with an appreciation for what we do. I realize that may not ever happen for a number of reasons, so I thought attempting to educate people in the daily lives of assistant principals would be a decent place to start. Mr. Kobach, I have no idea who the assistant principal was when you were in high school, and I have no idea if he was any good at his job, so I can’t speak for him. What I can do, however, is try to paint you a picture of the efficient way schools are run today, and why each AP position is so vital to a school’s success. So, without further adieu, here’s my blog post on, “What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?”

What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?

Olathe West High School is an amazing place to work. I’m surrounded by hard working educators every single day, and I am very fortunate that I get to call that place home. Part of what makes it such an incredible place is my administration team, composed of my principal, three other assistants, and myself. That’s five total. We are a 5A, soon to be 6A school in one of the largest districts in the state. Within a few years, we will most likely have close to 2,000 students enrolled. For those of you who are new here, Olathe West is in its 2nd year of operation, and we will grow by hundreds of students each year until we reach capacity. Please bear with me as I describe how each of my colleagues contributes to the overall functioning of our school, and how by investing in them, you are also investing in the success of our teachers and our students.

Let’s begin with our assistant principal that oversees all things facilities. Are you too hot? Are you freezing cold? He’s your guy. Is there a leak in the gym? Is there a weird smell in your hallway? You need furniture? You have a work order that needs placed? Do you need to communicate with the custodians but don’t know where to start? Do you need to reserve an area of the building for an event? Need some keys? He will work night and day – literally – to be sure our school is the optimal place for learning to occur, and to make sure our teachers can function in a literal sense while they are here. But that’s not where his responsibilities end. He’s also our SPED administrator, getting paged to the autism room multiple times a day, oversees the CBR (center based resource – think “lifeskills”) program, and works all things SPED. That’s not all, folks. He also is our crisis management guru, running our emergency drills and planning ALICE protocol. He also works with the performing arts departments on scheduling, concerts, and tending to their needs. He is a busy, busy man who works extremely hard to make Olathe West a great place to be. He oversees the junior class, and on any given day is completely tied up with discipline and student support.

Next, I’d like to write about our assistant principal who also serves as our athletic director. Some people who come across this post may think, “Schools need to focus on academics – not sports!” I actually dedicated an entire blog post to this topic, please feel free to read it here. In a nutshell, sports are an integral part to any school, providing outstanding outlets for a great number of students that prepare them for life beyond high school, in a way just as meaningful, if not more for some students, than their experiences in the classroom. I will always support athletics in public education. Just as I will always support performing arts, and other extracurricular activities. I digress. This man works tirelessly to ensure that all of our athletic programs are running smoothly. Not only does he work with parents on an academic front, but he is constantly working with and communicating with parents on an athletic front. Who do parents go to when they don’t get the answer they want from a coach? And he does this with such grace and poise. It takes an incredibly strong person to have this role. And organized. This person has to be organized. Think of just the transportation alone it takes for one sport – he oversees it all. He organizes all aspects of home games, he works to develop the coaches, and most importantly, he works to develop high character kids through athletics. Supporting athletic directors is directly supporting students. Let’s also not forget that this man oversees our AVID program, all field trips that occur in our school, and he teams up with our facilities AP to run our school’s calendar. If there is something that is important to stakeholders, it’s an accurate calendar. Oh, I also need to let you know that he oversees the senior class, not just for discipline, but also working alongside our counselor to help kids graduate from high school. As a former counselor, he is a guru all things college admissions and is an invaluable asset to not only our student athletes, but all students at Olathe West.

Next up, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our assistant principal who also functions as our activities director. He oversees all KSHSAA sponsored clubs and activities (think Cheer, STUCO, Scholar’s Bowl, etc.). He helps students get involved in and create student-initiated clubs. He is also the technology guru, and worked alongside our district’s technology department to roll-out over 1300 MacBook Airs to students, and basically took on the roll of an I.T. guy for the period of about a week and a half, and he does so periodically throughout the year. He runs all of the TV monitors around our building, and manages the content that scrolls on them every day. Our school is set up like a small college campus, and teachers change locations every hour, depending on what they are teaching that day. Our monitors have to be accurate and functional, and he ensures that these things happen. He helped implement two technology-based programs for us to efficiently monitor students this year. He organizes parent-teacher conferences twice a year every year, sets up registration every summer, and any time we have an event at our school, he is organizing it. For example, we have homecoming next week. He’s been working tirelessly with our STUCO sponsors to help ensure it goes off without a hitch. Homecoming, winter formal, prom – if it’s a big event at our school, he is managing all aspects of it. For those of you who are thinking those things are frivolous, think again. These things are the heartbeat of a school, giving kids something to look forward to, garnering school spirit, a sense of community, and a sense of belonging. As we learn more and more about social-emotional needs of students, we know these things are extremely important for the mental and emotional well-being of our students. Oh, also, this guy oversees freshman. I feel like I don’t need to say much more about that, but this is such a big transition year for those kids, and he is the perfect person for that job.

Then there’s me. My gig is that of curriculum and instruction. I work with our principal to create professional development for our staff, which hopefully has a direct impact on our students. I work with our building leadership team on our school improvement plan, striving to see the success of all students. I oversee assessments, which come in seasons these days. I oversee MTSS. For those of you outside of education, MTSS a system for working with students who struggle and implementing interventions to help them find success. At Olathe West, we work every day to make learning relevant and meaningful to students. We are working to move the needle in education towards real-world application, where students leave with the skills they need to be successful in life. We are moving towards a more project based learning (PBL) model, and I attempt to lead our incredible staff to take instructional risks that are beneficial for kids. They’re pretty great – both our staff and our students. I simply try to inspire the learning that occurs in our building, so that we can continue to grow our students every day.  I helped implement a positive behavior approach system, to help us reach all students, to understand their social-emotional needs, and to help our negative interactions with students decrease. I oversee the sophomore class, and with over 400 students in this class, any given day I am working alongside students to get them on a path to making better choices.

Besides the different assignments each of us have, there are also a lot of things we do that are alike, working with the students in our grade level. Now, Mr. Kobach, I’d like for you to really take heart to this part of my essay. This is the nitty-gritty work, that I would be willing to guess your assistant principal was doing every day that most kids had no idea he was doing. A lot of adults don’t even know this work goes on every day. Now, please know, each one of us loves this work. We are in no way complaining. But if you don’t know what APs do all day, I really would love to answer that question for you. Here it is. Here is what we are doing, anyway.

We are working daily with the kids who come to us from trauma filled backgrounds. If you didn’t know, kids who come from trauma are more likely to make fight or flight decisions, go into survival mode, and land themselves in our offices.

We work to give backpacks to kids who are using the same torn-up bag from 5 years ago. We are working with community partners to stock our food pantry to help feed students over the weekends and long breaks.

We are working to fight the incredible vaping epidemic that has taken over our youth. Do you know what a Juul is?

We are working to repair relationships between students in conflict. We are taking the phone calls from angry parents, or making really hard phone calls because their student made a poor choice, while still maintaining a positive, or at least a workable relationship between the school and the family.

We are working with our counselors to come up with plans for our students who are struggling socially, emotionally, and academically. We are working with our school psychologist and our social worker to meet the needs of the whole-child.  We are contacting law enforcement in the evenings and on the weekends because we believe a student may be at risk for self-harm.

We spend time counseling kids from dropping out of school. We talk to students about their goals, aspirations, and dreams. Sometimes those goals are to simply make it through the day, but hey, we’ll take it and run with it.

We are a safe place for our students to come to, because for every poor choice that landed a kid in our office, we attempt to build a positive relationship so that kid knows they have someone in their corner.

We work with teachers, Mr. Kobach. Did you know I have over 20 teachers on my appraisal caseload this year? This is exciting because I enjoy the appraisal process, but I’m about at capacity time-wise with 20+ teachers up for appraisal this year – just in my departments.  Each of us assistant principals oversees departments. Did you know that? Each department has a department chair. When the department chair needs something for their department, they go to their AP. The AP then works with the department chair to problem solve what they need. We try to be widely available to our teachers for support. This can look different on different days. If a student is having a meltdown in a classroom and a teacher needs an administrator ASAP, and someone is in an IEP (which we are responsible for attending), someone is already tied up with discipline, someone is in a meeting, it’s nice to have someone available to come to help immediately. Or what about the chronic issue in a teacher’s 3rd hour and they’d like some advice on how to approach it? I bet you never knew your assistant principal did any of those things every day. I’m just guessing that he didn’t involve you in the appraisal process of teachers or in classroom management issues.

Mr. Kobach, I am far from perfect. I work my tail off to be good at my job, which means I work my tail off for teachers and for students. How about we work out a deal – I won’t try to pretend that I understand everything that you do – because surely I don’t – if you don’t demean the hard work my colleagues and I put in every day. You may have noticed that I didn’t even get into what our head principal does, because, well, I could designate an entire blog post to that as well. He’s one of the hardest working people I know, which hopefully means something to you after reading this blog.

Oh, and also, we do lunch duty every day where our entire student body is at lunch for 50 minutes.

Thank you readers, for giving me a few moments of your time.

The Engine That Powers Us

Who here loves the movie Office Space? You know the one. Peter Gibbons absolutely hates his job at Initech. He can’t stand his boss:

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(Umm, yeeahhh, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow…) and he sees no purpose in his day to day work.

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(It sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays.)  That is… until he gets hypnotized to help him relax and enjoy life. Well life would have it that his hypnotherapist dies during his session, and Peter is in a permanent state of hypnosis. He is totally carefree. He literally stops caring about work, ensuing in comedic gold for the next hour and a half.

So what’s your point here, Megan? My point is that we can’t go to work every day feeling like Peter Gibbons, or we will surely end up destroying any passion that we have for our profession. Or at least destroying the copy machine.

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At the very least, we should be able to have meeting with the “Bobs,” enthusiastically explaining to them why our work is important. I should be able to let them know what powers me, and how I help power the mission and vision of the company.

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(Ok I think I’ve successfully incorporated a number of my favorite parts of the movie in a somewhat meaningful way.) In all seriousness, if you lack passion, energy, and enthusiasm for your work, chances are, you will have a hard time finding the success you seek. So if you’d like, hang with me for my second of twelve promised blog posts in 2018; this one all about enthusiasm (John Wooden’s second cornerstone in his pyramid of success, to which he describes as “the engine that powers all blocks of the pyramid“). As you read below, I’d invite you to reflect on what powers you.

Enthusiasm

It’s a pretty simple concept at its surface – if you enjoy what you are doing, you are more likely to be successful at it. What’s more difficult, is executing it. That is, sometimes we can get caught up in the day to day negativity, that we forget why having enthusiasm for what we do is so important. February, although the shortest month of the year, can oftentimes feel like the longest at school. Nothing overly exciting happens in February, and it takes great focus on enthusiasm to maintain it. And you know what? The most successful people I know do just that. Before going much further, I want to share a couple of quotes from Wooden, by John Wooden, on his thoughts on enthusiasm.

“You have to like what you’re doing, your heart must be in it. Without enthusiasm you can’t work up to your fullest ability.”

“You must have enthusiasm to prepare and perform with industriousness. Enthusiasm ignites plain old work and transforms it into industriousness.”

One caveat before moving on – I’m not saying that life can’t knock you down. Because it definitely can. We face adversity. Things get tough. But, if you love what you do, it’s easier to bounce back from those curveballs that life throws your way. It’s easier to stay positive during life’s most trying times when you have a genuine enthusiasm for what you do. You know that little phrase, “Fake it ’till you make it?” I believe in this. Let me clarify. I don’t believe in being a “fake” person – I tend to be a very “real” person if you know me. But I also know that as a leader, people can thrive (or not) off of my emotions, so I must try to be enthusiastic about what we do, even when I may not feel like it on a particular day. This is much easier when I have an authentic enjoyment for what I do day in and day out. As John Wooden writes:

“Enthusiasm brushes off on those with whom you come into contact, those you work with and for. You must have enthusiasm, especially if you’re a leader or if you wish to become a leader.”

Nerding Out:

Sometimes, I find that people who love what they do don’t always show enthusiasm for it. Why is this? One answer could be personality. I get that. However, we oftentimes get caught up in wanting to look “cool.” The best educators I know are the ones who don’t give two thoughts about looking silly in front of their students (or maybe more importantly, their colleagues) – yes, even at the high school level. Teachers who go “Owl In” (pardon the pun, our school’s mascot is an Owl..) with their enthusiasm and aren’t afraid to totally “nerd out” and risk looking ridiculous in front of their students are the ones who win over their students’ hearts. This is a concept we try to instill in our students – do what’s right regardless of what others say or think. Don’t get caught up in whether it’s “cool” or not to have great character. Who cares how many “likes” or “streaks” you have on Instagram, Snapchat, etc. What’s more important is whether or not you are a good person. I think that same principle applies to showing enthusiasm for what you do. In fact, this Wooden quote is hanging up in my office:

character quote wooden

Now, I have to say I am not perfect in this regard by a long shot. I, too, get caught up from time to time in wanting to look “cool.” But, once you get to know me, it doesn’t take long to figure out that I’m one of the most uncool people you’ll ever meet. And I’m really ok with it.

Coaching:

You can take me off the court or field, but you’ll never take the coach out of me. So, I’d like to take the next couple of moments to speak to my people. Coaches out there – are your athletes excited to work hard every day? Do you foster a culture of enthusiasm that revolves around the daily grind of the sweat that goes into practice every day? Even through the most difficult drills, conditioning, or even those “teachable moments” that can oftentimes come in the form of tough love, are your kids excited to be there? Are they cheering for each other? Are they lifting each other up? The fundamental drills – are your athletes excited to do them? Do you hear them encouraging one another? Are they there for each other? (I hope at this point, it’s clear that I’m talking to more than simply “coaches.” This philosophy transcends educational roles.)

As a college athlete, I was fortunate to be a part of a team who understood this idea of enthusiasm. Every rep, every ground ball, every practice, I had a team full of student athletes cheering each other on, who loved putting their cleats on every day, who knew our time on the field was precious. We lifted each other up. We cheered. Sometimes, we even got in trouble for telling each other “good job” when it wasn’t deserved (something we still get a good chuckle about today). Softball sometimes gets a bad rap for being “annoying” or “over the top” with the cheering that comes with the sport. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been guilty of being annoyed by some softball cheers. Let’s be honest… there are some doozies out there that I have shut down as a player, coach, and definitely given some eye rolls as a spectator. BUT.. here is what I will say about the cheering that exists within a softball team. When you start a cheer, you are encouraging those around you. You are lifting the enthusiasm level of your team. Another truth bomb… we don’t draw huge crowds for a run-of-the-mill softball game. So… we feed off of one another. The enthusiasm is contagious. And if you spread enthusiasm, you can spread industriousness in those around you. If one “dumb” cheer can lift up one of your teammates, it’s a dumb cheer well spent. Teammates are there to pick each other up, have each other’s backs, let each other know that you believe in them. And you know what? If you allow yourself to feel it.. it can be fun. Like… really fun. But you know what? You can’t be afraid of what others think. (Even those like me who have done some major eye rolling at cheers before – hey.. no one is perfect, just being honest here in this safe space…) When you let judgement of others prevent you from being enthusiastic, you are letting them keep you from your fullest potential. Nerd out. Do it. Don’t apologize for loving what you do, and for having a great time doing it.

I’d be willing to make you a bet. Those ladies that I shared a field with in college – The ones who brought enthusiasm to every practice, every conditioning session, every game, every mental training… I bet they are bringing that same enthusiasm with them in their professions today. Because being enthusiastic is a skill that has been engrained in us. It’s what we know how to do. For my ESU softball alum reading this… Can I Get A Whoo Haa?

My Challenge For You

As I conclude this blog post, I want ask you this – what do you do to foster enthusiasm in your job? Or what can you do to create a culture of enthusiasm like my team had in college? We so often get bogged down in the day-to-day things that can be downright HARD, and it can take a toll! Enthusiasm can fade, and it can fade quickly. I’m guilty of it, no doubt! I’ll ask you again, what do you do, or what can you do to revive the enthusiasm in your daily work? And if it is so mundane to you that you don’t know how to answer that question, I can’t help but ask – is it time to re-think how you do what you do? I’m not telling you to quit whatever it is that you do. What I’m asking is, is it time for a re-birth in what you do? Do you need something to revive your passion? To reignite the fire that used to be there? If the answer to those questions is yes, I don’t have the magic solution, as every case of unenthusiastic-itis is unique. However, I’d be willing to bet that with some soul searching (and maybe even some internet searching), you can find a project, an angle, a philosophy, a SOMETHING to get excited about. And if you’re thinking to yourself, maybe nothing at this point can give you enthusiasm for what you do, and you’re overall miserable in your career, then I will go ahead and direct you to this quote from Wooden.

“…I believe it’s true in any profession. If you’re knocking it all the time, get out!  Don’t whine, complain, or criticize. Just leave.”

I can tell you, at least if you’re in the world of education, there are so many ways to find yourself again. To revive the love and passion you have for this profession. For me, it comes in many forms as an administrator. Getting into classrooms, seeing excellent teaching in action, interacting with kids, implementing positive behavior supports, learning as much as I can to stay on the cutting-edge of education, just to name a few. I nerd out about those things, and I take no shame in it. I challenge you to find the passion within you, find resources to feed that passion, and learn. Learn and implement. Even if it means flipping everything that you’ve ever known about teaching on its head. You don’t have to take a giant leap into something to feel reignited. You just have to take the first step.

Enthusiasm helps us find the joy. Enthusiasm means we have found a purpose. Enthusiasm helps us get through the hard days. Enthusiasm turns our hard work into something we love. Enthusiasm, as John Wooden says, powers us.

Thanks for reading! Here is to hoping you have as much enthusiasm for your profession as Milton does for his red stapler.

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(: Megan

No Substitute for Hard Work

“Industriousness is the most conscientious, assiduous, and inspired type of work. A willingness to, an appetite for, hard work must be present for success. Without it you have nothing to build on.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I dare you to find a profession that is full of more industriousness than education. I’m not knocking other professions here, I know several people who are extremely hard workers and are not educators. I just happen to know a plethora of teachers. And they work so, so hard.  As the first cornerstone in John Wooden’s Pyramid for Success, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting topic to start my first of twelve promised blog posts in 2018.

“I call it industriousness to make very clear it involves more than merely showing up and going through the motions. Many people who tell you they worked all day weren’t really working very hard at all, certainly not to the fullest extent of their abilities.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I could pull quotes from Wooden all day long, but then it wouldn’t be much of a blog post, so much as excerpts from one of my all-time favorite books. My main point here is that teachers, administrators, counselors, and educators of all sorts are some of the hardest workers you will ever meet. Join me as I reflect over seven months of work that has gone into opening a brand new high school that attempts to move the needle a little bit at a time to redefine how education is done here in Kansas.

A New Endeavor

Opening a brand new high school is something that I will never forget. I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic at some point in the future, but for now I will highlight the industriousness that I have seen day in and day out from my colleagues. I will break this up into some sub-categories for your reading pleasure. 🙂 Just know that when I show up to work every day, I am inspired by the hard work that goes on around me, and the hard work put in by the adults in our building will transcend past the current students in our building, and will help shape how education is done in the future.

Project Based Learning – A Transformation

When our school opened its doors to students this August, several teachers dedicated themselves to teaching in a new way, which was Project Based Learning. For those who may not be in the education world, or who may not be familiar with PBL, this is much different than simply “doing projects” in a typical class. The projects become the class. Instruction is done through the project, the teacher takes on more of a facilitator role, students engage in sustained inquiry, engage in their communities, and strive to answer driving questions that are linked to content area standards. It’s a complete over-haul of a traditional classroom, and something we’ve been encouraging our teachers to try – even if it’s only bits and pieces of it. The mere thought of transforming all you’ve ever known about teaching is overwhelming, and the hard work that goes into executing it is unparalleled. Take a look really quickly at some of the hard work that our teachers have completed in the realm of PBL so far this year:

"Give What You Have To Give"

In this English II Pre-AP project, students worked for the better part of a semester working in groups of how they could make our school a better place. The theme was “giving back” to somehow enhance what is already in progress at Olathe West. As a culminating activity, students gave (super impressive) presentations to outside guests – administrators, community members, parents, etc. I saw presentations on a school coffee shop, a giving tree, a leadership club, and even a proposal to add a slide from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor in our building. The amount of work that went into this project by both our teacher and her students was simply impressive.

"Chemistry Night"

One of our chemistry instructors hosted a community event one evening showcasing the projects that his students had put together over the past several months. The amount of sheer effort to organize such an event is outrageous. Not only are you giving up your own time on a weeknight, but several “unseen hours” that go into planning, promoting, preparing. The turnout from parents, community members, and experts in the field was outstanding.

"Law Enforcement Recruitment"

One of the flagship programs in our school is our Public Safety Academy. Our facilitator for this program has really jumped into PBL and his ongoing PBL unit for the first semester was for his students to create a recruiting tool and propose its use to different agencies. Over a course of two nights, Public Safety students presented their products to agencies such as the Olathe Police Department, the FBI, Secret Service, and more. Can you imagine? No, really. Can you imagine the time and effort that goes into pulling something like that off? Incredible.

"Owls in the Kitchen"

Now this one was really cool. Our culinary teacher hosted multiple evenings where students could cook for their loved ones. She invited their families into our school and their students cooked for them. If anything brings people together to slow down from life’s crazy pace to just sit and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a meal with loved ones. This was nothing required of this teacher, but something she wanted to do to foster the culture of her program. Amazing.

"Social Justice"

Students in an English 1 class spent several months researching an aspect of social injustice. They then had to think of possible solutions and what they can do to be a part of the solution. They wrote a research paper and presented their findings to district leadership, school leaders, parents, and community stakeholders. They included a digital component to their presentation, fielded questions, and dressed professionally. To say they rose to the occasion is an understatement. How did they do this, you may ask? Through a lot of hard work put in by their teacher, that’s how.

"Give a Hoot"

I know I said the last one was really cool, but this one was a whole school effort. We have a couple of staff members that prepare advisory lessons for our school each week. (Advisory is a time each week for students to get with their advisory teacher, go through activities to help map out their future, among other activities.) Our advisory teacher-leaders created a “Give a Hoot” campaign where each advisory chose their own community service project and completed it over a period of about 3 weeks or so. We had toy drives, clothing drives, adopt-a-families, trips to the elementary school, trash picker-uppers, window cleaners and more. All advisories participated in something. Hard work at its core.

I hope it’s starting to become clear that teachers teach things that go beyond the textbook, beyond the walls of our school. The combination of passion and hard work yields some of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.

Technology

I’ve blogged before on how technology can enhance what a teacher does in their classes. When it goes hand-in-hand with effective pedagogy, it can turn a “basic” lesson into something so “extra.” (Pardon my attempt to try to use the lingo of our students.)

Perhaps something that I haven’t touched base on is the amount of hard work that goes into properly and effectively implementing technology into the classroom. Our students at Olathe West each have a school-issued computer. That’s great, right? Yes, it’s great. It’s an amazing opportunity to transform the way learning is done. And with that, comes a tremendous amount of work on the part of teachers to learn the ways in which this is done effectively. A tremendous amount of work to learn new tips and tricks to classroom management. A tremendous amount of work to learn effective tools vs ineffective tools. A tremendous amount of work to re-create solid lesson plans into something more relevant to today’s students.  A tremendous amount of work to balance that technology with teaching soft skills/employability skills. You find me a teacher that effectively integrates technology, higher order thinking skills, solid pedagogy, and soft skills all in one, and I’ll show you a tremendously hard worker. My hat is off to you, teachers who I just described.

English Language Learners

I want to give a quick shout out to all the ELL teachers out there in the universe. You know who you are. You know your work is hard. You know the industriousness that goes into your every. single. day. You very well could have  6 lesson plans going on simultaneously in your classroom. You find a way to teach students who have just come to our country, students who have not had any formal education in 8 years, students who are on the cusp of leaving a sheltered classroom, students who are spreading their wings and flourishing in mainstream classes, and everything in between. You want a lesson in differentiation? Visit an ELL classroom for a day. I respect all that you do.

Special Education

How about another shout out to our special education compadres working incredibly hard to meet the individual needs of each and every one of their unique students? Whether a learning disability, emotional disturbance, behavior disorder, gifted, or more – your patience, compassion, and hard work does not go unnoticed. Your kids need you. They love you. And you love them back. It’s not easy. But you do it with a smile. YOU work hard.

General education teachers, I have not forgotten about you. You find a way to reach up to 30+ students of all sorts of abilities and language proficiencies in a given lesson plan. You modify curriculum, accommodate for our students in need, plan amazing lessons, put in extra hours to make sure all of your students can access your curriculum. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

Mental Health

Where to even begin? Our students need us now more than ever. Teachers today are not only teaching their content, but soft skills such as how to persevere when times are hard, personal responsibility, growth mindset, collaboration, creativity – the list goes on and on. Additionally, teachers are concerned about the mental health of their students. Our counseling and administrative teams work through our SIT process every week to identify students who need extra support and come up with action plans to help them as we can. More than once this school year I have received a call over a weekend where a teacher was concerned about a student’s well-being. Partnering with our counselors and school resource officer, we work to ensure the safety of our students.

If you know a school counselor, give them a hug. The heavy stuff they hear on a daily basis might shock you. While their hearts are breaking, they work with students to give them social and emotional skills to make it through what life has handed them. Thank you, counselors.

Additionally, our counselors work to provide for our students in need not only throughout the holiday seasons, but all year long utilizing resources and programs both inside and outside of our district. This kind of work to ensure our students are taken care of is not easy. It’s hard. Really hard.

Extra, Extra..

I could write forever on the value of extracurricular activities that teachers and schools provide for students. (In fact I may have blogged about it once.) However, I cant talk about the hard work that goes into education without at least mentioning the extra hours that coaches and activity sponsors and club sponsors put in on a daily basis. Between practices, meetings, games, performances, concerts, community service, and competitions, our teachers are doing more and more to prepare the whole child for life after high school. Students have so many opportunities to get involved in SOMETHING that they can relate to, and we know that the more a student is involved and connected to their school, the more likely they are to find academic success as well. This is all thanks to a lot of industriousness on behalf of our teachers. Not only do they put hours and hours of hard work into extracurriculars, they work to foster the best team, activity, performance possible.

Professional Learning Communities

In addition to creating inspiring lesson plans, caring for the wide array of students in each class, and fostering students’ mental health, teachers do more work behind the scenes than one can imagine. Our teachers meet weekly in their Professional Learning Communities. In these meetings, we model our work after the book Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many) in the sense that we are looking at content standards, breaking them into learning targets, using them to create common formative assessments, then using those assessments to determine our path – how to reach students who don’t understand, and how to extend those who do. That’s the nature of our work. It’s not a matter of going to last year’s lesson and hitting “copy/paste.” But rather, it’s looking at the standards, realizing what students know and don’t know, and let the art and science of teaching take us from there. I’m a firm believe that those who can, teach.

Professional Development

The world of education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. To stay on the cutting edge of education is difficult. Just as you feel as though you are hitting your stride with the latest and greatest teaching strategies, there is a shift, a turn, an enhancement – something to keep you on your toes. The best teachers are the best learners. Teachers who have a growth mindset, are willing to take risks, learn new ways of doing things are often the most successful. Because that takes industriousness – hard work with a purpose – to do what’s best for kids. My promise to my teachers is to do my part to provide you with what I can with best teaching practices, new ways of doing things, encouraging you to take risks, try new things, and to be a reflective practitioner. I hope to do well by you.

#AdminLife

Let it be known that the glory of this post goes to the teachers that work day in and day out with ALL of our kids. They inspire me on a daily basis. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the extremely hard work put in by the admin team that I work with day in and day out.  Each of us has a well defined role, and I’m very fortunate to be part of such an amazing team. The extra hours that these men put in is unparalleled. Each one willing to help each other out, even if it means more work for them. Each one of them has a unique skill set that they put to work every day. Imagine the hours that our athletic director and activities director have put in starting up brand new programs in literally every single sport and activity that a school has to offer. Then there is our principal and facilities AP who put in more hours than what seems like humanly possible to make sure our school is physically up and running, advocating day in and day out for our students and teachers. The two of them started this school from the ground up. Additionally, let’s not forget the hours put in by all of them, attending events, reaching out to community members, meeting with parents, and all the things that happen outside of the 8-3 school day. When I think of what John Wooden means by, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come only from work,” I think of my admin team.

My Personal Reflections

I’ve taken up enough of your time for the time being, so I’ll keep this portion short. As a working mom of three, I like to think that I work hard. It’s one of the things that I value most. But I know that I’m not working any harder than any of my counterparts out there, our hard work might just come in various forms. As for me, I’ll strive to work as hard as I can to lead those in our school as well as my family to be the best possible versions of themselves. I may not always accomplish this, but you better believe I’ll be working for it.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

Wooden It Be Nice?

Happy New Year! I hope those that are reading this had a restful and enjoyable break for the holidays, and are starting the new year refreshed, revived, and ready to take on whatever 2018 has to bring!

As I have been reading through blogs and tweets of educators that inspire me, I’ve been soaking in the words they chose for their “One Word” — that is, the word they’ve chosen to serve as a theme or goal for the upcoming year. I’ve never been one to set New Year’s Resolutions, but I do enjoy reading about how people hope to shape their year around a  principle they hold close to their hearts.

Now, knowing myself, if I chose a word, it would probably get lost in the shuffle after about a month or so. (I mean, have you seen how good I am at blogging after I claim that I’m going to start trying to do better?…) Sometimes life takes over, and some things, like resolutions and One Words get out of focus for me. However, I am going to try something this year. I’m going to have Twelve Words. (Say What?!?) Ok, hear me out.

I have a passion for a handful of things in life. One of which is teaching and learning, and another, leadership. Mix this with the fact that I think John Wooden is one of the best role models in coaching (read: life), and an idea was born.

John Wooden is famous for many things, one of which is his Pyramid of Success. In this Pyramid, Wooden uses building blocks of character traits that build up to what it takes to be successful in sports, leadership, and in life. Here’s what I plan to do throughout 2018: I’m going to focus on one of the building blocks per month, and blog about my observations here at school and/or in my own life. That is, I hope to blog about the amazing things are happening in our school that reflect the given word for the month, and how I am focusing on being intentional in that quality.

Through this, I hope to become more aware of the good around me. I say it all the time – our school is amazing filled with amazing people. But now I want to be purposeful about seeing it in action. I also hope to hone in my own skills in a Wooden type of way. I believe that by being intentional in each of the building blocks that I choose, I can continue to reflect, learn, and grow as an educator. I hope to never be complacent in my professional life – there is always something to be learned and improved upon.

As it turns out, there are actually 15 building blocks to Wooden’s pyramid, which doesn’t fit so nicely in a 12-month year, so I have chosen what I believe to be the most essential and prominent things that I see in education. Perhaps someday I’ll look to grow in the three that I didn’t choose. At any rate, here is a lineup of what I hope to blog about each month:

January – Industriousness (Really Hard Work)

February – Friendship

March – Loyalty

April – Cooperation

May – Enthusiasm

June – Initiative

July – Intentness

August – Condition (“The Choices You Make, Make You”)

September – Skill

October – Team Spirit

November – Poise

December – Competitive Greatness

(The ones I’m leaving out – for now – are: Self Control, Alertness, Confidence. Each of these is vital to success, perhaps a great way to start 2019? We shall see.)

I hope you’ll join me on this journey this year in 2018. I’m excited to combine a few things that I like to “nerd out” about – school, leadership, and of course John Wooden. Best wishes to you and yours in 2018!

-Megan

 

 

 

Response To: The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a “reawakening” in my professional life. As things in my personal life have recently taken an all-time high in the crazy department (we added twins to the picture this past summer, so we’ve also added to the cute department), my presence in Twitter chats and my blog have taken a severe plunge. I’m the first to admit – I can’t do it all – and something had to give. But, as we come out of the fog of what is life with newborn twins, I’ve begun to re-emerge, joining my favorite chats once again, interacting with those I respect and admire on Twitter, and now, thanks to my most recent #leadupchat, I’ve resolved to spend more time in my “whitespace,” which has resulted in my renewed interest in my blog. Add to the mix that one of the people I so admire and respect, George Couros, tweeted a very thought provoking article (at least thought provoking for me), and alas! My first new blog post has been born.

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As you can see in the image above, the article that George tweeted is titled, “The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom: Caveats for Implementing Tech in Schools.” The article can be found here. The article quickly got my attention, and as I read on, I knew I couldn’t respond how I would want to in 140 characters or less. So, I’m here to take you through my thoughts – right, wrong, or other.

First, I want to make one thing very clear. My response is in no way an attack on the author of this article. In fact, it seems as though we’d be in the same school of thought when it comes to technology. He considers himself a tech-enthusiast, and the last sentence of the article reads, “If used properly, tech in education can (be a) fabulous tool for learning.” This statement is one that I can 100% be on board with. High five! If you know me, you know I am indeed a tech-enthusiast. I’m very pro-technology. But you know what? I’m also pro-personal interactions. Pro-have a good handshake. Pro-make good eye contact and speak clearly and respectfully. Pro-appropriate social interactions. Pro-face to face conversations. Pro-self advocacy. You get the idea. The thought here is that it’s all about balance. Technology is great, but solid teaching practices have to come first. I’ll touch more on this later.

As leaders, we are automatically charged with several things. Two of them, as they relate to this article are:

  1. Leaders are called upon to nudge people out of their comfort zones. As you well know, there are effective ways to do so, and there are also very ineffective ways to do so.
  2. With this in mind, when trying to initiate change, or when asking people to step outside of said comfort zones, it’s important that you listen to their concerns just as much if not more than you push the change upon them.

So while I may not agree with the majority of what is in this article, as a leader, I need to understand that these are not just “excuses” that people are throwing out there. They are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. If you toss them into the pile of “excuses,”  if you don’t hear what these people are saying, and if you don’t try to work with the so called “excuse givers”, what do you think the chances are of you getting them to step out of that comfort zone we talked about earlier? Build relationships. Learn to work with those who oppose you or your ideas. This is not something that happens overnight. It comes over time by building trust and modeling and encouraging risk taking. I wanted to say that, because as I go through the points the author is making, it may seem like I’m brushing this above point to the side, but please know that I understand this to be true with every fiber of my being.

One last bit before I dive into this article. I know we are taught at an early age not to assume things. You know how that saying goes. But, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to assume the following:

  1. We (educators) want what’s best for kids.
  2. We (educators) are good people at heart who want to do the right thing.
  3. We (educators) want our classroom to be a place that kids want to be.

Ok, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of my philosophy as a whole, I feel as though I can have some honest dialogue about the aforementioned article.

The article

I want to start by addressing a sentence found very early on in the article. It states:

“Oftentimes, technology is thrown into classrooms while the school administrators sit back and wait for the high test scores to roll in.”

I cannot cringe enough about this statement. I’ll put it as simply as I can: An ineffective teacher with technology is still an ineffective teacher. There. I said it. Technology does not improve test scores. It is not the magic solution. Pedagogy ALWAYS comes before technology. Good teachers improve learning, and good teachers integrate technology to help students learn. While I see the point that the author was trying to make with this statement, what I see here is a leadership problem, not a technology problem. If the leaders of your school expect technology to all of a sudden make kids perform better on standardized tests, then they’re missing the point of why technology integration is important. This is hard for many, because the effects of technology are not easily shown with numbers and data and test scores, but rather with creativity, projects, and genius hours. I like to compare it to “soft skills.” Is there a standardized test for responsibility? Dependability? Gumption? Grit? Just because we want to integrate character education in our buildings, doesn’t mean it has to correlate with test scores. We do it because it’s good for kids. Similarly, wanting to prepare students and teaching them how to problem solve, create, and be fluent with technology in a digital age is enough reason for technology integration, without looking solely at test scores. To complete my thought from earlier in this paragraph, if you give technology to an effective teacher – now that’s something to be reckoned with. The possibilities are endless.

Counterpoint to First Caveat:

“Students may not be interested in activities that don’t use technology.”

The simple counterpoint: Effective teachers will find ways to engage students both with and without technology.

My more complex description: Teachers have been engaging students without technology for years. They will continue to to so for years to come. You want to know how? With lesson plans that are relevant and interesting. This may or may not involve technology depending on the week, day, activity, etc. I’m going to lay it all out there for a moment: If you really cannot find a way to meaningfully engage our students without using technology, it’s time for some deep reflection on why you are an educator. I truly believe that as an educator, you should be able to reach your class in meaningful ways that don’t involve technology. Yes, technology can be an excellent way to engage students in higher order thinking, and a great way to add relevancy to lesson plans, but in the end, it’s YOU that’s engaging (or not engaging) students. The school I’m currently in is a 1:1 school with Chromebooks. And you know what? It’s awesome. I see teachers effectively using technology all the time, and it’s so fantastic. And you know what else? I see teachers effectively not using technology too, and it’s so fantastic. They are finding other ways to engage students, working on ALL THE OTHER skills that are important for our students to leave us with. Remember what I said earlier? It’s all about balance. So while I do think it’s important for educators to grow, learn, change, adapt, and meet the needs of learners, it doesn’t always mean technology all the time. It’s not a “technology or nothing” mindset. That would be counterproductive.

Now, I have to admit, that previous paragraph is just a reaction to the title of this section of the article. The actual example it gives under this section is essentially this: If students are so used to typing essays on a laptop, and turning them in via Google Classroom, then they won’t want to write those essays by hand, if something were to happen to the technology. He states, “Most will prefer to use the computer than doing it the old fashioned way.”

Can I just say for a moment, that I’m with the students on this one? I can’t blame them for not wanting to handwrite an essay (other assignments – sure…essay? Probably not).  I’m not de-valuing having students write things by hand. I think it’s important for a number of reasons, I know the research is there – handwriting IS IMPORTANT (remember – balance), but to think that someone wouldn’t prefer to type an essay is a bit of a stretch for me. Do you know how many times I’ve hit backspace typing this? Deleted entire paragraphs? (You’re welcome.) There aren’t enough erasers in the world for me to write this out formally by hand. I bet if you took a poll of adults and asked if they would prefer to handwrite or use a computer to compose an essay, I’d be willing to say a vast majority would want to use a computer for such a task. Now let me take a moment to recognize and give a shout out to the hand-writers out there. Good for you – you do what works for you. In fact, I hand wrote the outline to this blog post. But there’s no way I would want to write my finished product by hand. Furthermore, if while completing, let’s say, my Master’s degree, I lost all ability to use technology to type my papers, I’ve got to admit, I would have been pretty bummed. And by pretty bummed, I mean I probably would have lost my mind. Also, there’s a reason that things like Google Classroom and Blackboard exist. It’s called organization and efficiency. I’m going to go extreme here for a minute, if you’ll allow me to do so. We no longer use quills for pens and carrier pigeons for message delivery, as those methods no longer meet our needs, right? We’ve deemed them inefficient. I don’t keep a carrier pigeon around in case I lose all electricity and the USPS goes under (I’ve found my Harry Potter owl much better for such cases). I digress. What I’m saying here, is that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the students on this one. Sometimes technology is a good thing that can make our lives easier, and it’s ok to accept that.

Counterpoint to Second Caveat:

Teachers in-service training is generally needed when introducing new technology — another workshop or staff development they don’t have time for.

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, because this is a topic I could write on for a very long time. I said this earlier, and I’m going to say it again. This is a leadership issue, not a technology issue.  What are the leaders in this building doing to promote a growth-mindset among their staff? What are they doing to attempt to intrinsically motivate teachers to learn and grow? This is true whether your PD is technology driven or not. Good teachers will make time to learn something new. Remember my assumptions before? Educators want what’s best for kids, and they are good people at heart. Tap into this and find a way to get their gears going. Work to personalize their PD (shoutout to my #personalizedPD crew!). Give them choices, find what they want to learn about, build relationships, build trust, invest in your teachers, and eventually, they’ll come play for a bit in your sandbox. You cannot just say “here’s what we are learning so learn it.” Find a way to make the technology (or any PD) relevant to what they do, how it can transform their classroom in a good way, and then differentiate/personalize/individualize the heck out of your PD.

I have one more point to make here (well several more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I’ll make this the last one for this section). Don’t assume that teachers don’t want to learn and that they don’t have time for new PD. If you work to make learning relevant to teachers and balance that with getting them out of their comfort zone, amazing things will happen. I want to talk specifically about those veteran teachers who get a bad rap sometimes. The author states, “Getting veteran teachers to try a new teaching method, let alone something they have to take time and learn, can be something of a chore.” I’m sure this can be true. I’m not naive enough to think that there are no teachers out there who aren’t “stuck in their ways” so to speak. I know you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, etc. etc. However, in my experiences, some of the best learners are veteran teachers. I think if we automatically write veteran teachers off as unwilling to change, we are doing everyone a huge disservice, and even missing out on amazing leadership potential in our buildings. Again, do some leg work to find where they want to grow, and create PD to match that, while still stretching them out of their comfort zones. But please, can we stop throwing veteran teachers into this massive pile of “unteachable teachers?” My mom was a teacher for 38 years, and up throughout her last year, she was learning new ways of doing things, integrating technology, making lessons fun and engaging for kids. There’s a teacher at my school who is retiring at the end of this year, and I’ll be darned if she’s not taking things from PD days and applying them almost immediately. Remember, educators want what’s best for kids, educators are good people at heart, and educators want their classrooms a place that students want to be.

Before moving on to counterpoint 3, I’m just going to pose this question, because I can’t seem to shake it. Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that this article was written satirically? I’m going to paste a paragraph below, to which I won’t respond necessarily, but it almost seems like the author was being sarcastic here.

Teachers spend six or seven hours in a classroom but as most teachers know, a lot of their teaching time is dedicated to preparation. After all, someone has to put together those Powerpoints and worksheets as well as enter student work into their grade book. Attending training on something entirely new will take them away from their necessary tasks.

Counterpoint to Third Caveat:

Technology could prove to be a distraction for students.

Yes. This is true. Students are…SQUIRREL! Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Counterpoint: Everything can prove to be a distraction for students. Your poster on the wall. An email they received earlier. The kid sitting three rows up. What they’re having for lunch. Thinking about the game after school. Kids are distracted creatures by nature. Whether you “allow” cell phones/technology in your classroom or not, kids are texting in class. Fifteen years ago, they were writing notes to each other on notebook paper. Today, they text each other.  This is a classroom management issue. Yes, you’re going to have kids try to text and get on social media at inappropriate times. These are teachable moments. Use them as such. Have clear classroom expectations, use strategies such as positive behavior supports, conferences with students, and when necessary, discipline. Be consistent. Be fair. If you let the fear of students using technology for communicating with friends keep you from using technology at all, you’re really missing out. Yes, it will happen. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it’s something you can overcome.

Similar to a statement I made earlier: A teacher with good classroom management skills will continue to have good classroom management skills with the addition of technology. Similarly, a teacher with poor classroom management skills will continue to have poor classroom management skills with the addition of technology. As leaders, we can help them overcome this.

Counterpoint to Fourth Caveat:

Teachers use it because “they” like using it, with little concern for the students.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a response to this. Not because the argument is so solid that there is no rebuttal – quite the opposite. The author points out that if a teacher gets a new computer, they’re going to spend all their time ONLY making presentations on said computer because they like it, disregarding all other forms of teaching. I know I’m young, and I have a lot left to learn in my career, but I’ve literally never met a teacher like this. Sure, there are teachers who are slide show heavy (I had a professor in college nicknamed Slide Show Eddie), and I would encourage these teachers to continue to seek engaging ways to have students learn the material. Most teachers that I know that use slide show presentations also utilize really awesome projects, assignments, and activities that are student centered and good for kids. I’ll end this counterpoint with a statement I made at the beginning: pedagogy always comes before technology. If a teacher is putting technology ahead of pedagogy, let’s all rally together to bring them back to the mothership.

Final Thoughts

I always have the intention of being short and to the point, but rarely measure up to that intention, so I thank you for hanging in there with me ’till the end. I do want to share a few closing thoughts before I wrap this up. Technology is a really powerful tool that teachers can and should integrate to maximize student learning, to create innovators, to create problem solvers, to create great communicators, and to have fun. However, we all know that technology is not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not easy. Neither is being a teacher. It’s hard work. Really, really  hard work. But what a great opportunity that we have – to model to students how to problem solve and work through difficult situations, to take risks and learn from mistakes. To teach them when it’s appropriate to use technology and when it’s not appropriate to use technology.  We are preparing the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t use technology because there are going to be too many difficulties along the way, then we are doing our students a disservice. Yes there will be times when the network goes down. Yes, there will be student misbehaviors. Yes, your hard drive may crash (be sure to back up!!). I encourage you to take these challenges head on, learn from them, improve upon them, and continue on the path of creating great lessons for kids. I’ll end with a quote from the great John Wooden, someone I look up to immensely:

Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.

 

Life Now – Twinning

Two months ago, my husband and I welcomed our second and third children into our family. To say that it’s been a whirlwind of an adventure would undoubtedly be an understatement. Our hearts are full, our family is complete. We’ve changed more diapers and cleaned more bottles than we ever imagined possible, and it’s only the beginning. Now, as I sit here on a stormy Friday night, with just a few days left of my maternity leave, I’m taking a few moments to share my thoughts on the past few months with the world. So if you’re interested, I invite you to read on. If the whole “mom blog” thing isn’t for you, no offense taken, we can still be friends. I do hope to continue the “school life” portion of my blog this year, so stay tuned. 🙂

#PregnantLife

I won’t go into details of how miserable the last few weeks of my pregnancy were, for a couple of reasons. 1) I’m not into complaining. (Don’t ask my husband if that’s true or not.) 2) I know people have way worse pregnancy experiences than the typical uncomfortable miserableness that occurs at the end of pregnancy, so I’ll count my blessings that I was never on bedrest, and I made it all the way to 35 weeks 6 days with twins. I’ll call that #twinning for sure. Anyway, if there’s one comment I’d like to make about pregnancy it would be this – if people treated everyone the way they treated pregnant women (in my experiences), the world would be a better place. Seriously. People were so kind to me, like, all the time. That’s one of the only things I’ll miss about being pregnant. I mean, yeah, it’s really great and special to feel those little aliens moving around in there, but people are just so darn nice to pregnant women. On a daily basis, so many people would smile at me (some out of pity), hold doors, make friendly conversation, and offer to help me with even the smallest of tasks. Many times these were complete strangers. It was very refreshing to see the very best in people when we seem to be living in a time when we oftentimes think, “What is this world coming to?” So, if I had a challenge for you, it would be this: Strive to be as kindhearted to people you encounter in your every day life, as you would be to someone 8 months pregnant with twins. The world couldn’t help but be a better place.

Labor and Delivery

I’ll spare you the entire story, but I will give you some highlights. It went a little like this:

I had been having contractions for a few weeks on and off, and until this point, they would typically go away after a few rounds. So, when I started having contractions at around 3:30 in the afternoon, it was nothing new. However, when I was still having contractions at 5:00 every five minutes, we decided I should probably call the doctor. Now, my previous birth experience was nothing like this. With our first daughter, I was induced in the evening of Day 1, sent home the morning of Day 2 because no progress was being made, labored all of Day 2, went back to the hospital, and she was born in the wee hours of the morning on Day 3. (Cue huge eye roll for that “fun” process.) So, fast forward three years when we left our house around 6:00 pm, and had TWO babies at 8:02 and 8:04 that same day, we were a little, um… well, stunned. It all happened so incredibly fast. It was a cesarian section, as our little boy was as transverse as transverse could be, and there was no way in God’s green earth that the doctors or myself wanted to try anything but a C-section. And so, our twin babies were born, as perfect as can be, at 35 weeks 6 days gestation. We knew there was a good chance that they would have to be taken to the NICU, at least for precautionary measures, so we were very prepared when they took them away. I got to see and hold both babies very briefly, but it sure was a different experience to have to wait two hours, when I was out of recovery, to go see my babies. Below is a picture of when I got to do just that. It’s a picture that I will cherish forever. Completely dazed, and in total awe of God’s miracles that I was holding.

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The NICU

Our baby girl was in the NICU for seven days, and our baby boy was there for ten days. NICU parents who are there for longer than that, you are saints, and I pray that God gives you the strength and faith you need to make it through. Those were some of the longest and hardest days this mama has experienced. Maybe even more deserving of sainthood than NICU parents are the NICU nurses. Our babies were in very good hands, and those men and women cared for our babies like their own. And you know what? They put this mama at ease, which is no easy task. Some of them even cut me some breaks. I was rooming in at the hospital, and if you know anything about rooming in, it’s not the easiest thing you’ve ever done, and it was definitely not my most favorite thing. I was up for 3 of the 4 nighttime feedings, which meant I was getting approximately 1 hour of sleep at a time, about three times a night. Some of those angel nurses let me skip a feeding and told me to get some rest, bless their souls. I got so attached to one nurse, that I cried when I knew we wouldn’t see her again. I told her, “Charlotte, I love you, and I would love to see you again, but at the same time, I’m so happy we won’t.” She got it.

The NICU is a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. But it also sucks. Now, I knew that our babies were going to be OK. There was never any doubt that they wouldn’t be. They just needed some help from the get-go so they could thrive once they left. For this, I was incredibly thankful. One day, my eyes filled with tears when I saw a couple walking down the hallway, with incredibly sad looks on their faces, and I just wanted to give them a hug, but instead said a little prayer for them and their little one. On another occasion, an alarm sounded, and everyone on deck went to Room 1, and I overheard a nurse ask another nurse, “Was that real?” to which the other nurse just nodded in response with a look of shock on her face. It gave me instant chills. You see, even though we were in the NICU, a place that NO parent wants to find themselves, there was a very bright light at the end of our tunnel. And even though those were the longest 10 days and nights we have experienced, I prayed so hard for the other families whose babies may not get to come home for a very long time. For the parents who couldn’t hold their babies. For the parents who might not get to take a baby home. If you have some extra prayers to give, you may give them to some NICU parents.

I want to acknowledge the strength my husband provided for the duration of our hospital stay. He is an amazing father and husband, and he was our rock during this trying time. He knew what I needed when I needed it, and I’m so grateful for him.

Here are a few photos from our stay in the NICU.

Mom Guilt

There’s no getting around it, I am an emotional person.  It’s weird – I see myself as mentally tough when handling day to day situations. I keep my cool, I keep my patience, rarely do I get mad, angry, or upset. But throw a heartbreaker of a movie in front of me, and the waterworks get turned on. It’s the same way with my children. When I think of how much I love them, or what I would do if something ever happened to them, you know, typical mom things, I completely lose it. I think the hardest part about being in the NICU with our twins, is that I couldn’t be a mom to our precious 3 year old. I missed her, and I could tell that she missed me. Throw postpartum hormones into the equation, and you have a hot mess express on your hands. Now, I will pat myself on the back, because out of the entire 10 days in the hospital, I really only lost it one of those ten days. (And boy did I lose it that day.) The source of my sadness? I just wanted to hang out with my 3 year old daughter. I wanted to hear her laugh, play with her, and just let her know how much I loved her, and let her know things would be “normal” again soon. But at the same time, I knew I was where I needed to be. Kids are stronger and more resilient than we oftentimes give them credit for, and minus a case of the hives she got due to stress, I have been overwhelmed with pride with how well our daughter has adapted to our new family dynamics. She’s a rock star, you guys. She loves being a big sister, and she adores her new siblings. She’s fun-loving, hilarious, and she has such a good heart. I hope that never changes. I’ve been telling her she’s not allowed to turn 4. “But Mommmyyyyy, I haveta turn 4 on my next birthdaayyyy.” Ok, ok. But not 5.

FOE

F.O.E. Family Over Everything. If there is one thing I have learned since the twins came home, is that my husband and I have absolutely, positively, the most incredibly supportive and helpful family. Ever. You guys, I don’t think there’s a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks that I would have my sanity if it weren’t for our families. In particular, my mom and my mother in law. Talk about two women who have sacrificed their day to day lives to help us out.  Wow – is all I can say. Since the twins have come home, there have only been a handful of days when one of the two aren’t here with me helping me out. Some of you might be thinking, “Wouldn’t you get tired of always having someone around?” Ummm, have you not been reading? We have newborn twins and a toddler in our house. I would probably let strangers in at this point if it meant I got to take a nap. Ok, but seriously, I cannot thank them enough. They’ve been our rock, our support, and THEY LET ME NAP. They do laundry, they cook, they help clean. No, you can’t have them. I claim them, and we are keeping them. I love you GG and Mimi, thank you for the sacrifices you make for us every day. Literally, every day. And thanks for letting me take naps. We couldn’t do this without you. (Again, literally, not metaphorically.) I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put into words what these two women mean to me. I love you. Thank you. Thank you for loving us and for loving our kiddos. I hope someday they are able to realize with incredible clarity how important you are, and how blessed they are to have you.

Survival Mode

This particular phase of parenthood, the newborn phase, I feel is very similar for 99% of all parents. Whether it’s one baby, two babies, or God bless your soul, more than two babies,  the first 5 weeks are pure survival mode. It seems like all you do is feed babies, change diapers, try to get babies to stop crying, look how cute babies are, change diapers, get some snuggles, change diapers, and feed babies again. Newborns don’t give you a lot “in return” at this point in their lives. No smiles, no coos – just you doing your best to keep tiny humans alive. It’s a lot of long nights and a lot of Netflix watching to keep yourself awake. To put it simply, it’s a lot of work, and any downtime I had, I would – you guessed it – take a nap. Again, thanks moms. I also want to give a shout out to everyone who has brought the twins, our 3 year old, and my husband and myself a gift. I have a huge, long list of thank yous to be written. Please know that if you brought us a gift or a meal, I haven’t forgotten about you, nor am I unappreciative of what you have given us. But, naps have prevailed, and I’ll take that as a personal flaw on my part. Please know that “Write thank yous” is on my to-do list.  Here is a big THANK YOU all our friends who made and brought us dinners. I bet we didn’t have to cook our own dinner for close to 6 weeks after the twins were born. That was a game changer. We are so lucky to have such amazing people in our lives. Thank you, we love you.

Back To Work

So as I sit here, now one day before heading back to work, I’m overcome with mixed emotions. I can’t believe how fast ten weeks has gone since the babies were born. But, when you’re in survival mode, you kind of lose track of time.

The biggest emotion I feel before going back to work is sadness. I’m going to miss my days with my babies. Once school starts back up, life is pure craziness. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it can be easy to forget to slow down and enjoy the little moments. I’m anxious that I’ll be going so fast and furious that I will forget to cherish the special parts of motherhood, and that I will more so focus on the parts that make you feel like you’re losing your mind. This is not meant to be a political post by any means, but I do feel like as one of the most developed countries in the world, we could have a better system for maternity and paternity leave as a nation. Twelve weeks of unpaid leave time seems kind of like we got jipped compared to what some other nations offer new mothers and fathers. But, again, I’m not one for complaining, so off to work I go, because mommy and daddy are about to put three kids in daycare. Enough said.

On the other hand, I love what I do, so in no time at all, I’ll get back into the groove. I’m excited to be back at work, at a job that I love, with people that I truly enjoy. As much as I have loved my maternity leave, and wish it was longer, I know I don’t have what it takes to be a stay at home mom. I love my career (no, not more than my children), and I feel very fortunate to be able to work in a profession that brings such joy and fulfillment into my life. It’s hard to be a working mom, there are sacrifices made daily, but for our family, it’s the right thing. It’s also hard to be a stay at home mom, a work from home mom, or anything in between. Being a mom is hard work.  So to moms everywhere – keep doing you, keep fighting the good fight and raising good humans. Lord knows we need more good humans in this world.

And there you have it. The nuts and bolts of our story up to this point. If you hung in there for this entire blog, thanks for reading! I’m not sure if our lives are interesting enough to warrant a blog, but I do enjoy being able to document my reflections, so our children can read them some day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go soak up some snuggles on my last day of leave. xoxo

twin

 

Scary New School Finance Bill – My Thoughts

If you haven’t heard, there is a new school finance bill trying to make its way to a vote in the Kansas House of Representatives. In case you didn’t know, last year, Kansas did away with its old school funding formula (because it was too complicated) and replaced it with the new block grants that we saw this year. I’m not here to talk about the block grants, although I do feel comfortable stating for the record that public education in Kansas is not adequately funded, which the Supreme Court has also stated. In fact, school funding has been found unconstitutional in the state of Kansas, and if our elected officials don’t get it sorted out before the June deadline, schools will not open up in the fall. Again, I’m not here to give you a report on all of this, but if you’re not familiar with school finance in Kansas, give it a quick Google. Hint: It won’t be quick. Back to the bill I want to speak on for a few moments – it wouldn’t actually give public education any more money, but it would redistribute how it is spent, and quite frankly, it uses a more confusing formula than the one that was nixed before our lovely block grants. The new bill would highly restrict how school districts would able to spend their state aided funds. I could probably write a separate blog post on almost all of these restrictions (and I may), but for example, we wouldn’t be able to use state aid to pay for food services, because having well-fed students has nothing to do with delivering effective instruction. (Also, there is wording in the bill that allows for our state aid to fund private schools – let’s save those opinions for another day, shall we?) The bill restricts school districts from using state funding to pay for anything that doesn’t directly affect classroom instruction. What this blog post is going to mainly defend is how, contrary to some legislators’ beliefs, extracurricular activities do indeed have an instructional impact on our students. You see, extracurricular activities are one thing (of many) that the bill specifically outlines that state funding could NOT be used for. And let’s just say, that doesn’t settle well with me.

I’m not here to spit research or statistics at you. I’m here to speak from the heart. I may not have statistics, but I have stories. I haven’t spent hours researching the effects of extracurricular activities on students’ lives, but I have lived it. I’ve seen it as a student, as a teacher, as a coach, and now as an administrator. And while that may not be enough in some people’s eyes to qualify me as “educated” on the topic, I’ll take my experiences any day over the “numbers” that some of our legislators may have, although they’ve never worked in a public education institution and seen first hand the impact these activities have on students.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in a classroom as an educator, you’d know that each student is motivated by something different. Some students are motivated to learn just for the sake of learning. Some are motivated because they know their parents won’t accept anything less than their best. Heck, we have students whose expectations for themselves exceed those of their parents. But guess what, we don’t just teach those students. We teach those students who are motivated by external factors as well.  And guess what one of those external factors is for a good portion of our student body – the ability to participate in an extracurricular activity. Now, I want to make it clear, that although a good portion of the rest of my blog post will revolve around athletics, that athletics are not the only thing at stake here, and every other extracurricular activity is just as important, carries just as much weight, and can have just as big of an impact on a student’s life.

Life As A Student Athlete

First, let me tell you about the things that I gained from playing high school sports. (How much time do you have?)

Time management. When you are playing a high school sport, you typically either have a game or practice every day after school. Sometimes, you don’t get home until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And guess what – you still have homework to do, tests to study for, projects to work on. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely. You might struggle at first, but being a student athlete teaches you early on how to manage your time, work efficiently, and prioritize. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yep.

How to interact with adults. Sometimes when playing a high school sport, we are put in situations where we have to communicate with our superiors (adults) in uncomfortable ways for adolescents. For example, we have to learn to advocate for ourselves, and we have to learn to listen to reasoning from our coaches, and deal with news that maybe we don’t want to hear. We can’t just “change teams” because we don’t get along with the coach – we have to find a way to work through the situation in a respectful way, and find a solution that works. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I’d hope so.

Effective communication. Sometimes, you take on the role of a leader in a high school sport. You work with underclassmen and your peers to assimilate them to the program. You work with them to build camaraderie, and ultimately to work towards the same goal. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I vote yes.

Overcoming difficult situations. Losing is hard. But you know what? Sometimes it happens. What I learned in high school sports is that a loss is only as good as what you can learn from it. Also, sometimes, giving your best isn’t good enough. (That’s a hard pill to swallow.) You can give it your all and still lose. You use that as motivation to get better, work harder, and stop making excuses. Do I still apply that to my life today? Yes. Has playing high school sports helped develop my grit and overall ability to cope with situations that just plain stink? Yes. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Absolutely.

Dependability/Personal Responsibility.  On the softball field, I had eight girls depending on me to do my job every pitch. On the basketball court, four other girls counted on me, just as I counted on them. They counted on me to put my best into practice every day, to push myself to become better, and to push them to become better. They counted on me to run the plays that coach set forth, and to work within the system that had been designed for us. They counted on me to pull my weight, to do my fair share, to contribute. If you didn’t do these things, you didn’t play. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yes.

Commitment – This one is directly related to dependability and personal responsibility mentioned above. When you make a commitment to a team, you see it through to the end – you don’t flake out. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I think especially today, it’s a resounding yes.

Working with people you don’t get along with. I learned that just because a teammate and I didn’t get along off the court or field, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t be good teammates to each other. I’ll let that one sit for a minute, because this is something several adults have a hard time with as well.

Bottom line – if you think that these skills – these soft skills that are a huge push in education right now – are not a vital part of a students’ success in the K-12 public education system, I’d argue that you haven’t spent much time in a classroom lately. If you tell me that these skills don’t play a part in a student’s ability to effectively receive instruction, and a teacher’s ability to effectively deliver instruction, again, I’d argue that you haven’t seen these things in action. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for many of our students to gain these ever-important skills.

Life As A Teacher and Coach

Coaches. It’s easy to look at their positions as an easy “cut” to the budget and a place to save money. But what are we losing as a result? We’re losing mentors to our students. For many of our student athletes, they develop a bond with their coaches that go beyond the playing field. They look to their coaches as role models and adult leaders in their lives. Can teachers play this role? Yes, I’ve known many who do this every day to many students. But again, I argue – would we reach all of our students? Some of our students form stronger relationships with coaches than teachers – to no fault of the teacher. I know that when I was a teacher struggling to build a relationship with a student athlete, who was one of the first people I went to for advice? Their coach. Their coach would either give me advice on how to best reach that student, or the coach would work with that student to be more successful in my class. And as a coach, I had teachers coming to me for the same reasons. Sometimes, if a student doesn’t want to work hard for a teacher, they may not want to let their coach down, and working together, we can help that student find success.

As a coach, I was able to work with more students than I would have in my classroom alone, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of these young ladies’ lives. As a high school coach, you work with every skill level of athlete, from beginners to the elite, and you teach each one how to find success, and you help them through many of life’s ups and downs. I’ve been there for student athletes who needed academic support. I’ve been there for student athletes to help them overcome the typical adversity and pressure of the sport which they wear very heavily on their shoulders. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were going through a divorce. I’ve been there for student athletes whose mental health was not stable, and they were engaging in less than healthy behaviors. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were not supportive, and they were looking for approval elsewhere. I’ve been there for student athletes who have gone through more tragedy in their lives than anyone deserves, and were looking for something positive to pull from their day. I’ve been there to teach a student athlete how to win with grace, and lose with dignity. I’ve been privileged to pass along all the lessons that I was able to learn as a student athlete, and hope that I have had a positive influence on our next generation of student athletes.  If I was not afforded this opportunity to coach, I would never have met some of these young ladies. Would they have found another mentor? It’s hard to say.

School Buy-In

This point is pretty simple to make. Students who have “bought in” to their school are more likely to succeed in school academically. When you see school as a positive place to be that provides you opportunities, and you have multiple positive adult relationships, you’re more likely to put more effort into your school work. Why do you think that one of the first steps that poor performing schools take is to build up morale and school spirit within their students? When a student takes pride in their school, they take pride in doing their part to make their school great, including in academics. Disengaged students tend to do the opposite. I’m pretty sure there is research to support this, but talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you this trend is accurate. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for students to buy in to their school.

Opportunities For Our Students

Do some student athletes have the opportunity to play club sports? Yes, there’s no doubt. Do all of our student athletes have this opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, there are some sports, where their primary season is the high school season. High school athletics afford students the opportunity to play at a level higher than recreational sports do, and provide opportunities for students to try to reach the next level – college.  We are all about trying to find opportunities to get our students scholarships for college. Many of these are academic scholarships. Several of these scholarships require that students are involved in extracurricular activities. Some students even receive athletic scholarships. Guess what these athletic scholarships require? Certain academic standards need to be met. So if a student seeks an athletic scholarship, let’s say for cross country, they’ll also be motivated to meet that college’s academic requirements to be accepted into their school. And if cross country wasn’t offered at our school because we couldn’t afford to fund it from our local taxes, that student may never get looked at for said scholarship. I would hope the state wouldn’t want to take these types of opportunities away from our students.

Focus on the Whole Child

It will be a sad day when we stop focusing on the development the “whole child,” and we are only concerned with the old three Rs of education – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic. We have come so far from those days in order to support the ever growing needs of our students, and to provide them with opportunities that did not used to exist. Let’s please not go back. Instead, let’s look ahead to our potential new accreditation system, and 5 better Rs that are being proposed within it: Rigor, Relationships, Relevance, Responsive Culture, and Results.

We Want It All – It’s What’s Best For Kids

Do I think that athletics are more important than providing sound instruction in the classroom? Absolutely not. I’m simply trying to make a point – extracurricular activities support what we do in the classroom and help us reach more students who may otherwise remain disengaged from school. Do I think that we should take funds out of the classroom and into extracurriculars? No. Call me crazy, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. And is that such a bad thing when all you really want is to see opportunities for kids? I’d like to see a bill come across that supports extracurriculars (and everything else this bill undermines) AND puts substantial money into teaching staff so that our schools can continue to grow in their academic offerings. When you get into the field of education, you’re constantly thinking through the lens of “What’s best for kids?” It’s unfortunate that many of our elected officials do not go through this thought process as well. (And thank you to those who do.) So where does the answer lie? I’m no economist, but I think this comes with a responsible tax formula, and not by robbing Peter to pay Paul, and certainly not by taking away opportunities from tomorrow’s leaders. So, as voters in the state of Kansas, let’s stay aware of the types of bills that are trying to make their way through the legislature, and advocate for our public schools.

We’re Expecting…TWINS!

I’m not sure how many loyal followers I have out there, but a few of you may have noticed that my blogs seemed to have really thinned out the past few months. Rest assured, it’s not purely due to laziness…purely. Nor is it completely due to the craziness of my schedule, nor lack of material to write about. It has more to do with the complete and total exhaustion that comes with being pregnant – with twins. The kind of tired that leaves you out of breath going down the stairs. Yes, you read that right. Someone said it best to me the other day – there’s really no kind of tired like pregnant tired. And I will have to agree with that. Trust me – I’ve been all sorts of tired in my life: I just played 5 softball games in 100 degree heat tired. I was up all night studying, took finals and played a basketball game that night tired. Two-a-days tired. Cry all night tired. Work 18 hour days tired. Up all night with a sick kid and then work an 18 hour day tired — And none of those are quite the same as pregnant tired. I’m not trying to take anything away from the other kinds of tired – but for me, these little miracles take every ounce of energy I have. Please don’t get me wrong – we are completely blessed in every way possible, and I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t trade this exhaustion for the world. I’m simply explaining that rather than blog at 8:00 at night, I’ve either been in bed for thirty minutes, getting that oh-so-precious sleep that I crave every minute of the day, or I’m getting home late from work, and heading straight to my pillow. On these nights, I’ve had several ideas of what I want to blog about next, but before I can get my ideas down on paper, I’m sound asleep until my lovely alarm comes a-calling at 5 in the morning.  So on this three day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, I’ll take a little bit of time to write about what’s been going on. Now, if you’re interested, I’ll take you through our journey to twins.

Heavy Hearts

Early last year, my husband and I endured a difficulty that too many couples are all too familiar with. We discovered 6 weeks into my pregnancy that I had miscarried. The baby that we were preparing to meet in 9 months would not be. This was one of the hardest things we’ve been through as a couple. I know that at only 6 weeks along, we maybe shouldn’t have had our hopes up like we did. I also know that people endure fertility journeys much more difficult than ours, as many of our family and friends have been through things I would never wish upon anybody, and I often pray for their healing and success in their journeys. I also know that the most probable cause for the miscarriage was that the baby itself was not compatible with life. And, I also know that we have been blessed with an amazing child already, so I should take comfort in that. I know all of this, yet in that moment, our hearts were broken. Going through a miscarriage is hard. One, for the obvious reasons, but two, how do you deal with it? Do you tell people? Do you keep it to yourself? How long is the right amount of time until you’re “ok?”  It’s such a taboo topic, that you can oftentimes feel alone, and let’s be honest, it’s not a real enjoyable thing to talk about. So here I was, a few days later, with a forced smile on my face, and I headed back to work. My thought process was that sitting around at home wasn’t going to make me feel any better, so I may as well get back to a job I enjoy, and at the very least, get my mind off of the events of the past few days. Was it too soon? Maybe, but I was happy with my choice, and before I knew it, I was back in the groove.  Don’t get me wrong – this fall when our baby-to-be would have been born, I felt the sting come back, but with a strong faith in God to get us through, healing came to us once again, and we were stronger than ever.

Shock and Awe

So, as you can probably imagine, when we found out we were pregnant in November, we were over the moon excited. Let me re-phrase that. We were cautiously over the moon excited. Even with the miscarriage earlier in the year, it’s hard not to jump for joy when you get the good news, right?! So, I went to my doctor, the pregnancy was confirmed, and just to be on the safe side and to give us peace of mind, she scheduled a sonogram for me ASAP. So here I was, six weeks along, and on my way to the doctor to find out if the pregnancy looked like a viable one. I tried to keep it very low-key for my husband and me. In fact, I told him to stay home for the sonogram – that I’d call him afterwards with either good or bad news. It’s weird – I felt like the lower key I was about the pregnancy, the less of a chance I had to jinx it. (Because that’s something that actually happens, right?)

Ok, before I continue on with the story, let me take a brief time-out for some family history. My mom is an identical twin. My dad is a fraternal twin. So when someone asks if twins run in my family, I just kind of giggle and say, “You could say that.” So it would be an accurate assumption to think that throughout our marriage, my husband and I have joked around about the idea of having twins.

Moving right along. When I went in for that six week sonogram, I was nervous. Really nervous. It had been so clear at this point in the pregnancy last time that something was wrong. Would we see the same thing this time? Would it be hard to tell if everything was ok?  The questions were nagging at me, even until the moment when I saw them. It was kind of simultaneous. The sonogram technician was telling me at the exact time what I knew I was seeing on the screen. Two sacs. Two babies. Well, little rice like things that had heart beats. They were babies. Our babies. Two of them. And they looked fabulous, from a medical standpoint. Insert a myriad of emotions. Pure happiness. So excited. Panic. Money. Panic. Happiness. Oh my gosh, the money. Happiness. Blessed. Three kids in daycare. Excited. Panic. Happy. Oh geeze, my husband isn’t here, I told him to stay home. I laughed. What else was there to do? This was the most amazing news ever, but you could accurately say, we were in a little bit of shock. You see, we had agreed that we would be done having children after our second was born. Oh how God laughed at us for trying to make our own plans, and I’m so happy He did.

Waiting For July

So here we are, three sonograms later, 12 weeks along, and the babies look great! It’s funny. Even with the “shock” and “panic” that come along with the idea of two babies at one time, if something were to happen during our pregnancy to one of them, we would be completely heart broken all over again. We’re very aware that even though the first trimester is over, something crazy and out of our control could happen. But for now, we take comfort that our prayers have been answered, and we look forward to and welcome the fun times and challenges that lie ahead of us. The first 12 weeks of this pregnancy have been no walk in the park, but I welcome trimester 2 and 3 with open arms, and although the thought of being 9 months pregnant with twins in the middle of the summer makes me sweat, even in this subzero winter weather, I’ve never been more excited for July in my life. Prayers for a healthy and full term pregnancy are always welcomed and appreciated from all. Thank you to all of our family and friends who have already shown such amazing support. We love you all!

Best,
Megan

Tech Tuesday: Student Presentations That Are Not Slideshows!

Well Hi There! Happy New Year!!

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, in case you were wondering. I know, I know, I’ve been lagging on my blogs – but for a good reason, I promise! I’ll blog more about that in an upcoming post.

What I want to talk about today are three Tech Tools that you can have students use that are not slideshows. I’m not trying to knock any of my favorite slide show tools, such as Google Slides and PowerPoint, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a little variety in the mix… especially if you’re viewing over 100 student presentations.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to draw your attention to a few things. First, please remember a while back, I did a Tech Tuesday over Digital Storytelling, where I highlighted the tools Animoto, WeVideo, and VoiceThread. These are really great tools for students to use on a presentation or project, but not what I’m presenting today. Also, I’ve presented Storify to my staff before as well, which definitely has its place for some projects and presentations. The final point I’d like to make today, is that my blog post today is all about the tools, but I have a disclaimer for you: Just using a fancy tool with a surface level project that’s not meaningful to students doesn’t mean that you’re using technology for the betterment of student learning. It won’t turn a bad assignment into a good assignment, just because you use one of these technology tools. Please continue to put pedagogy first, technology second.

You’ll also notice that for each of the tools that I present below, I’ve included a presentation about Genius Hour, using the tool at hand. Genius Hour has been a topic of conversation at my school, and several teachers have been wanting more information about it – so today’s Tech Tuesday was a 2 for 1 – come learn about some presentational tools, and if you want, here is some information about Genius Hour!  I more or less have the same presentation three times, so you can see what the differences look like in each of the three tools. My main resources for putting together this presentation were: www.geniushour.com (and several links and videos that I gathered from that page), this Edutopia article, and this LiveBinder, put together by Joy Kirr.

Ok, without further adieu, here are the three tools that I presented today during Tech Tuesday!

Tool #1: Adobe Slate

Adobe recently released the web-based version of their presentational tool, Slate. Slate was previously only an iPad app, but has since made the transition to being completely web based. Here is a promo video for Slate, where you can get an idea of what some of the products have a potential of looking like.

The idea behind Slate is that you can get a great, professional looking product, without having to be a designer. If you like something with pre-made themes, this is for you. Since the themes are set for you, it allows students to spend more time on the content, not on the style. This has both pros and cons, depending on what you are going for – some people prefer something they can customize a little bit more. I, on the other hand, appreciate the fact that I don’t have to think about the design.  One limitation is that you cannot embed videos in Slate, but you can put a link in for a video.

Here are some examples of what Adobe Slate looks like:
If you click on this link, it will take you to the Slate website, and if you scroll down just a bit, you can see quite a few of examples for you to click on and view.

Here is a brief tutorial on some of the features in Adobe Slate.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Slate.

Tool #2: Smore

Smore is a tool where you can build online newsletters and flyers. I use Smore to send out a Friday Focus newsletter highlighting the great things I see in classrooms each week. The version I use is not the free version, but rest assured, there is a free version, so don’t let the “pricing” page fool you.

What I really enjoy about Smore, is the ability to embed a YouTube video into the newsletter itself, and you can watch it without leaving the page. In this one aspect, I believe it is better than Slate, but I enjoy the options that Slate offers with photos more than what Smore offers.

In a similar way as Slate, Smore is another tool where you can choose backgrounds and themes and fonts, but most of the formatting is done for you.

Here is a brief tutorial on what Smore looks like.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Smore.

 

Tool #3: PowToon

Bring your slideshow to life with PowToon. Although the paid versions offer some really neat features, the free version is more than enough to add some pizzaz to a typical presentation. You can choose from ready-made templates where you fill in some information here and there, you can choose a theme that’s ready for you to add all the details, or you can start completely from scratch.

When you are making your presentation, you’ll have a choice to be in “movie mode” or “slideshow mode.” In movie mode, all you have to do is hit play, and the “movie” that you’ve created will play. In slideshow mode, it will be, well, a slideshow. You can still have all the same features as movie mode, but it’s more ideal for “presentations” so you can stop and go at your own pace. PowToon allows you to tell more of a story than a typical slide show. Also, If you want to embed video or hyperlinks to your presentation, you can only do so in slideshow mode.

You have the opportunity to add background music, and even some voiceovers for some really neat sound effects.

PowToon is much more complicated than the other two tools that I’ve shown today, but it has the potential to make a really great product that the students can have a lot of ownership over. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It simply means more problem solving and working with the technology. Also, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in PowToon to have your students make one. Have them be resourceful to troubleshoot some of the issues they come across. (But just in case, here is a link to some tutorials for PowToon.)

PowToon Examples:
https://www.powtoon.com/examples/

*These examples are made with premium accounts. You can’t have “people” in the free version.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in PowToon – it is in “slideshow mode” for the sake of having hyperlinks and videos. You’ll notice that on sides where I have links and/or video, I have placed a “hold” at the end of each slide to allow myself to “pause” the presentation if needed, so we can visit those links. That is why there is a brief pause after each slide. I could take these holds out, but it is a neat feature for students when presenting. You’ll notice it does interrupt the flow of the music a bit. The holds are not necessary if you take your presentation off of “autoplay” and manually change the slides. I did not opt to have holds on slides without a link or video.

NOTE – THIS IS NOT LIKE GOOGLE DOCS – IT WILL NOT SAVE AUTOMATICALLY. PLEASE REMEMBER TO HIT SAVE MULTIPLE TIMES THROUGHOUT YOUR WORK!! OR ELSE YOU’LL LOSE IT!!! (Speaking from experience here.)

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Those are the three tools for today! I hope you enjoyed the lesson, and learned something as well! Happy Tech-ing!!

-Megan

A Record Setting Thanksgiving

Busy.

It’s kind of my go-to answer these days. You know the questions, “How’s it going?” “How is school?” “How are you feeling?” “What are you doing later?”

I can efficiently answer a lot of questions with just one word, and I think a lot of people can relate to how that feels. Which is why this last week has been so odd, and such a relief at the same time.

To give you a little background, I’ve never been one to sit around and do nothing for more than maybe a day (or two) of some R&R. I’m frequently on the go. There’s always something that needs to be done. Work that needs to get accomplished. Errands that need to be run. Chores that need to be completed. Grocery lists that need to be made. Laundry that needs to be cleaned. Clothes that need to get bought, I mean… sorry, let’s get back on track. You get the idea. So with this mindset that there’s always something that I need to be doing, it can be tough to relax at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually really good at taking naps. In fact, I’d consider it a strength (can you put that on a resume?). But it’s also usually because I’m completely worn out between my job, my second job, and raising a toddler. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open.

Back to my story. When I left school the Friday that Thanksgiving break started, I was so excited. Yes, I was excited to see family and to eat enough food to feed a small army, but mostly, because I had nothing planned. Do you know what a strange feeling that was for me? To have nine days of nothing? Sure, I had Thanksgiving plans with my side and my husband’s side of the family, that’s a given, and I love that time with family. But other than that, nothing pressing to do, nothing that I had to get done. So, I was excited. Oddly, it also caused a little bit of anxiety. Was I forgetting something? Why am I not busy? What should I be doing? There has to be something! I even double (triple) checked my calendars to make sure that I wasn’t forgetting something. When I knew that it was for real, it was like I could breathe for the first time in a long time.

This year, I had a Thanksgiving break for the record books. The record that I set was for the “laziest, get-nothing-accomplished-ist, do-hardly-anything-ist” Thanksgiving break that I think I’ve ever had. And you know what? It. Was. Awesome.

No, I don’t think this is going to spur a new trend in my productivity as a human being, but it sure was nice to enjoy some quality time with my family. Looking back, sure, I got some things “accomplished,” but they didn’t feel like tasks. I had the time to simply do them, and it was an enjoyable part of my day. I put up Christmas, got groceries multiple times, cleaned house, made dinners, bought some Christmas gifts, etc. But I wasn’t rushed to get these things done. I got do to them on my own time, at my own pace, and with my family. Gosh, what a different feeling that is than rushing around like a mad-woman on a weekend trying to get everything done. Sometimes, putting up Christmas can be a chore. I love the end product, but the process can sometimes be a bit… blah. Not this year. Our daughter loved EVERY second of “helping” mommy put up the decorations, putting the ornaments on the tree, and seeing the lights turn on. And I loved every second of watching her. This Thanksgiving break was the most consecutive days of quality time that I got with my daughter that I can recall in a very long time, and I cherished every second of it. (Well, maybe not the seconds that I had a toddler throwing up the day after Thanksgiving…we’ll just call that day a wash.) Bottom line is, it was nice to slow down, to enjoy the small things. To spend nine days giggling, tickling, playing, goofing, chasing, loving and snuggling was pure bliss, and I am so incredibly thankful to have had that time.

Here’s the thing. I love working. It’s part of who I am. I love what I do. I feel like the work that I do is important and meaningful. I’m not tooting my own horn here, but I feel like most educators will tell you the same thing. I believe in public education, and I want to do my part to make it the best that I possibly can. Along with this comes business. I want to make something clear though – just because I love my job, and I can be very busy at times, it doesn’t mean that my family comes second. I’m a wife and a mom, first and foremost. Sure, there are responsibilities that keep me away from home some nights, but family will always come first. So while these past nine days have been truly amazing, I’m also ready to get back at it tomorrow. (Can I get an “Amen” for having a schedule?…but not one that starts at 5:00 a.m…) This Thanksgiving break will go down as one of my favorites of all time. Nothing spectacular happened – it was quite ordinary from anyone looking on from the outside. But in my heart, I’ve been spending some time and energy thanking Jesus for a perfect break. Tomorrow, if someone asks me how my break was, I’m going to be thrilled to not have to answer “busy.”

I hope you had some opportunities to enjoy your friends and family as much as I did over the holiday. Whether you’re a working mama or a stay-at-home mama, or somewhere in between, the work you do every day is important and meaningful. I hope you have times like I did this past week where you’re able to slow down, enjoy the small things, and fill your days with lots of little kisses.

Thanks for reading,

Megan