A Summer of Learning

Going into summer, I was dreading break. Two and a half months without much purpose, structure, or routine. Although I love vacation as much as (if not more than) the next girl, this prolonged vacation (while everyone else works) has the tendency to make me antsy and not very nice.

After a particularly restless summer in 2017, I wanted to be more proactive. And I’m happy to say, that although I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the last two months as “restful,” they have been invigorating and interesting and enjoyable.

This summer was all about new learning arenas for me. My brain, my heart, and my body, have been energized by the learning process.

 All conferences should be paired with hiking.

All conferences should be paired with hiking.

Arena 1 | Administration

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Educational Leadership Development Institute (ELDI) sponsored by my school’s accreditation organization. For 4+ days, I spent time exploring the many aspects of administration with other teacher-leaders throughout the U.S. & Canada. I loved learning about board governance and staffing and telling our schools' stories. Since then, my brain has been swirling with ideas and questions and passion for leadership.

Arena 2 | Instructional Design

This summer I’ve had the opportunity to do some instructional design work for Cumby Consulting, a medical device training company. I’ve loved learning about how education is working in a completely different industry. In the process, I’ve been able to learn new content, new tools, and new strategies for facilitating eLearning and in-person learning. It’s been so fun to watch this curriculum come to life.

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Arena 3 | Cycling

In January, I started cycling with my husband on the weekends. This summer I took it to the next level by joining the Almaden Cycle Tour Club. Once or twice a week I found myself with a bunch of retired guys (and the occasional woman), exploring San Jose on bike. I conquered hills I didn’t know I was capable of, forced myself out of my introverted bubble, and even learned to use clip-in pedals.


With August on the horizon, I’m thankful for this summer and the opportunity to learn and explore new things. I’m looking forward to continue to explore these things in the months and years to come, but I’m also looking forward to getting back in the classroom with students, where we’ll learn and grow together.
 

Job-Life Balance: A weight-loss plan

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I lost 20 pounds between August 1 and February 1 this year. Without a diet. Without a gym membership. Without a pyramid scheme. And it's been fun. It's made me happier. It's deepened my relationships. Although it started as a plan to get healthy and fit, it has become so much more than that to me. Now, it's about having a balance between my job and the rest of my life and being intentional in both. 

Scheduling Time to Run

The time I spend running is the time in my life where I feel accountable to no one. For 30-90 minutes, I'm able to shut off my brain and its struggle for perfection and just be. This summer we moved a half-mile from a county park with mountains on three sides; the trail within it reminds me to focus on the beauty around me. This August I started putting time on my calendar to run three to four days a week. This appointment forces me to leave school and come home and run. This time, it turns out, is way more restful for me than shopping or Twittering or cleaning my house. 

Taking Time to Cook

 Check out  Imperfect Produce !

When I first started teaching I ate pasta with marinara almost every night because it was cheap and easy, and I liked it. My love of food and cooking has greatly increased over the past seven years, and I've learned to eat much more nutritious food. And is it turns out, when you do so, you actually need to eat a lot less of it. When we decided to get healthy back in August we counted calories for about two weeks. In that time, we discovered that most Americans eat at least twice as much food for every meal as they should, and even more when going out.  Therefore, I started being even more intentional with my meal planning. I switched to a half sandwich (with lots of avocado... yum) instead of a whole. We started sharing a chicken breast instead of having our own. When going out, we always split. And we use a lot of good ingredients. I swear by my produce box, cookbook for two, and I'm now a huge fan of Epicurious after trying their #cook90. And all of that doesn't even mention all of the joy and depth of relationships in gathering around the table together each night

Being Outside Together

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I've almost completely given up working on the weekends in favor of adventuring. Living in San Jose makes this pretty easy. We have an amazing county park system and bike routes galore. Oh, and it's 75 degrees and sunny in the middle of February. Last January we started hiking with the Santa Clara County #pixinparks challenge, and it's now just become a part of who we are. On Saturday and Sunday we generally spend three hours outside together hiking or biking and chatting. We've found adventurous friends who love doing these things with us, and it fills my quality time bucket so much (not to mention the endorphins and vitamin D). Getting outside and away from our devices and work has been so freeing and life-giving as individuals and in community. 

Our focus is no longer on weight loss or "getting healthy." This has become who we are, and it's so fun and life-giving. Although I love working hard at my job, the balance and pursuit of life-giving activities has made me a healthier and happier person. I don't think I'll ever go back. 


As a side note, I have found some products in which I believe greatly. Check them out: 

I am a math teacher.

When I first started college, I entered as a math major, with a minor in English. I loved math. I loved the fluidity of how numbers worked. I loved how numbers could make sense of things. However, when I took Calc III the first semester of my freshman year, I quickly stopped loving math so much. It moved to theoretical, and if I'm honest, it was just hard. I soon changed my focus to English, keeping only a minor in math. 

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I entered the teaching field, then, focusing on English. I've always loved literature, and I love the plethora of ways I can creatively teach it.

However, since I went to college in Michigan, I was able to receive credentials in both my major and my minor subjects. Therefore, when staffing changed at my school a few years ago, I was asked to begin teaching a math class as well. 

At the time, I knew nothing about teaching math. However, I did know two really cool math teachers who both loved math, and more importantly, loved kids: John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey. At Back to School Night last night, I've realized just how much they've really impacted my math education philosophy. Here's what I've learned from watching their practice: 

Math should be fun. Math gets a bad wrap for being drill and kill and a bland lecture format. Although my math class still has moments of lecture, you'll often hear sound effects or hand movements or crazy wording to help us remember things.

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Math is more than a worksheet. I love teaching pre-algebra because so much of it is "real world" math. I've learned to look for how students might use our mathematical concepts in their world with their ideas. We do big projects and little projects and get our hands dirty as much as possible. 

Mathematical excellence can occur with little to no homework. The more I talk with families, especially here in the Bay, I'm struck by the soul-killing and family-killing nature of math homework. We can practice skills in class a lot and have little to no homework every night. Turns out this creates a way more math-loving culture, too. 

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Math can be a team sport. When I think back to my math classes, it's amazing how much of math class was listen to the teacher, do a worksheet by yourself. There's so much beauty to me in students working together to solve a problem. I love the mathematical conversations I hear in my room every day. 

The more time I spend processing the last several weeks of the beginning of the year, the more I realize that I am truly a math teacher. I'm not just a language arts teacher who teaches math anymore. I love watching my math students learn and create and work together and have fun. I love making crazy lessons for them that put our mathematical concepts to good use. I am a math teacher.

Give 'Em a Microphone!

"Middle school students are the most underestimated people in the world. I love that technology can amplify their voices." If you've heard me speak, you've probably heard me say this, but I believe it more every day. This week, my students gave TED-style speeches, and I was once again reminded how we need to give our students microphones and get out of the way. 

Our journey started by reading I Am Malala, and learning how the world isn't just our little San Jose bubble. We discussed religion and education and women's rights and terrorism and so many more big, heavy things. But in the midst of it all, we saw a girl who stood up for what she believed in, empowered by those around her. And when she was given a microphone, she just kept going. One day, in the midst of Malala and her friends' frustration with the Taliban, Malala's teacher and father helped them compose speeches and essays about their feelings on the issue. Soon, she was given a microphone. She writes, 

"And I knew in that instant that it wasn't me, Malala, speaking; my voice was the voice of so many others who wanted to speak but couldn't. Microphones made me feel as if I were speaking to the whole world" (71).

I want that for my students. I want them to be a voice for the voiceless. To stand up and speak to the world confidently about what they believe to be true. So we started on a journey. 

We began by watching Nancy Duarte's video on the secret behind great talks. She argues that all of the world's great speeches alternate back and forth between a "what is" and a "what could be." How perfect for standing up for the voiceless. 

My students chose topics that they were passionate about. We created sexy slides (thanks, Unsplash!), and we practiced. We said our speeches pacing back and forth on stage. We practiced with our shoes tied together. We shared with each other. We said it to the air. 

But then we took it to the stage. Under the lights, with a microphone, using a clicker. And their voices brought power. 

"Be strong in your opinion, but do it with wisdom, not foolishness, and do it with respect to those who have lost their lives fighting for the opportunity for you to speak out."

"Disregard everything, and run after what you love."

"How can you stop stereotypes and judging others?"

"I've never have had to worry about working or staying at home to cook or clean. All I've ever had to do is show up and learn."

"Instead of indulging in our own negative emotions and then affecting the people around us, we should learn how to release our emotions in another way."

"There are more than 63 million orphans around the world."

"Shoot for the stars, and never give up, living your worth, your voice, and your dreams."

I could go on and on and on. These students blew my mind with their poise and passion as they took the stage, the opportunity and the microphone empowering them to make a difference. 

Our students just need a chance to be heard. To share their passions. To ask their questions. To make a difference. Let's give them a microphone! 

I Have a Dream

If you've spent a significant amount of time talking to me, you've probably heard me so that I think middle schoolers are the most underestimated people in our world. If you'v spent a significant amount of time with middle schoolers, you know that's true, but you also know that it can take a considerable amount of effort to dig them out of living in the world's expectations. It can be exhausting and disheartening, and then there's one of those moments that reminds you of why you believe in them so much. 

Last week we watched Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have a Dream" speech in preparation of our reading of The Cay, which is dedicated to "Dr King's dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand." Every year as I watch this speech, I'm inspired by Dr. King and his message for our nation. This year I find it has even more meaning to me as I hear the voices of the racially oppressed in our media every day. It's not an easy speech for my seventh graders to understand, but it's such an important one. 

The next day, I asked them to write their own "I Have a Dream" speech, speaking up for an injustice that they see around them. After they wrote, they went on the soccer field outside of my classroom to practice. It didn't go as well as I hoped. There were funny voices. There were papers stuck to faces. There were students doing anything but what I hoped for. And to be honest, maybe this wasn't the best activity for 2:30 in the afternoon right before a long weekend, but I was so frustrated. 

I pulled them back inside, and told them, "You guys, Dr. King was assassinated for his beliefs. Assassinated. Because he was standing up for an injustice he believes in. I hope that you see injustices too and stand up for them. I hope you have causes that you believe in enough to be willing to be assassinated for them. I'm having you write and give these speeches because I believe in you and the things that you have to say, and I hope you live into that." 

And did they ever.

Yesterday we set up the podium in the auditorium, put on the stage lights, and turned on the microphone. And one by one, my seventh graders came up and shared their dreams: 

I have a dream that one day there will be an end to terrorism. I hope that people can go places and not be scared about what might happen to them.

I have a dream that will change the school system for the better.

I have a dream that future generations will learn to coexist and that we can live with peace and prosperity... if we work together we can mend the wounds we have inflicted on society.

I have a dream that one day gender inequality will vanish.

I have a dream that humans will be appreciative towards animals and animals towards humans. To let man’s best friend really be man’s best friend.

I have a dream that there will be no more cancer.

I have a dream where homeless people would have a second chance

I have a dream that kids around the world will have a say in what goes on around them. I see a world where adults won’t drag kids along to places and will spend time doing something with their kids.

It was beautiful. They confidently spoke their dreams and their classmates listened. I listened. Now you're listening. 

I have big dreams for my students and their dreams. I can't wait to see them work to make their dreams realities. 

(Want to know more, check out this post from 2014: "Students, I Have Dreams for You.")