From The Middle

The Relay

26.2 miles is daunting.  But a 4-person relay isn’t.  I need to be ready to run 6-7 miles by the end of May.  I can do this.  While I’m not ready yet, I will be. I have the support, the time, and a mutual goal that will get me there.

I’ve watched a number of friends train and run marathons, and I’m always inspired.  But I’m also intimidated by the number of miles, the time and dedication to running I would need to commit to in order to be ready for this distance.  I’ve conquered 13.1, but I think that is the farthest I want to go. It was achievable for me. I started small, built up my miles, participated in a 10 mile race, so 13.1 didn’t seem that much farther.  But it was. Those 3 miles made all the difference. They were rough, but I made it.  And the feeling of accomplishment was amazing!  It makes you almost forget those last 3 miles.

I need to remind myself of the goals that are set for students and teachers.  Are they achievable, yet stretches them just enough that they can see their hard work pay off? Not all are marathon runners. Some excel at 13.1, others at even shorter distances.  This makes me wonder…

Do I provide enough scaffolding for students and teachers when the task before them seems daunting?  Reading a chapter book, completing a multiplication story problem, launching a new curriculum…what steps do I take to help them reach that goal?  Am I underestimating how challenging these tasks can be for some?  Do I acknowledge the pain, the frustration, when the end seems so far away, and do I celebrate the accomplishment well enough so that when looking back the frustration didn’t seem so bad?  While I think I offer support, I’m not sure I offer it in the progressive manner that leads to success. I wonder if I provide enough time or sequential structure, and if I leave students and teachers in a place of frustration and expect them to move on before feeling accomplished.

So I need to start with the relay.  I need to be sure I understand the efforts behind each student or teacher’s goal.  And then getting to the 26.2 may not seem as daunting…



So glad you are here

A while back, I read the book Fostering Resilient Learners By Kristen Souers. One thing she mentioned that still resonates with me is the power of the first 7 seconds. Our first interactions with our students are some of the most important moments of the day.

One of my duties at school is monitoring the breakfast cart, where hundreds of kids line up in the morning to get fueled for the day. The hallways can get crowded and the kids can get a little amped up, yet I am careful in choosing my first words to them. As much as I want to say “no running!!”, I try to say “So great to see you and see that you are excited about coming to school today. Please remember to walk so that everyone can stay safe on their way to class”. This works if they actually stop long enough to hear me say it😊 And sometimes it’s difficult when you say it to the same students day in and day out.

I always feel badly when morning meetings go long and teachers miss that initial greeting time with their students. Coming down the hallway after their students can lead to more first interactions being demands ( i.e. get to class!) vs pleasantries.

I also try to be mindful of this a practice with other relationships at work and at home, too. Before I walk in with ideas, suggestions or demands, I try to remember how the first few seconds influences the rest of the conversation or interactions.

Apparently there was something trending called the Seven Second challenge where you try to do a variety of tasks within 7 seconds. These are just a few:

Counting 1-10 in another language.
Sing the Alphabets Backward.
Change your hair to a ponytail?
Name 5 breeds of dogs in 7 seconds.
Lick the tip of your elbow.

(See )

How I greet others is my Seven Second challenge. Want to join me?


The Champion

the child opens the book

like a scientist, observes both the picture and word

begins to read effortlessly until…

the unfamiliar!

what to do?

on the attack…

persistance prevails!

like finding the missing link

the victory won,

the child closes the book

and smiles.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I’ve read my blog to my family a few times.  It helps to read this out loud, for both editing opportunities and a bit of encouragement from those close by.  Last night, my daughter wanted to read more of my entries, and then said she wanted to start a blog.

So I helped her get one set up.   Her first entry is about the social rankings of her elementary school classmates. It led to some great mother-daughter conversations and gave me some great insights into what floats around that preteen mind of hers.

When I first started teaching, I had my students journal and then I would reply to one journal entry a week. I would often leave questions and hope for a ‘conversation’ to occur between us.  That never really happened. Most of the time, the students didn’t answer the questions in an additional journal post.  They might just use one or two word replies, or just not reply to them at all.  I had no follow-through with this either…32 journals to get through in a week (5-6 a night) was enough without having to go back to all those that maybe didn’t respond.  In retrospect, maybe it was because I had them journal daily and I only chose one, and it could have been one they weren’t interested in saying anything more about.  I have seen how difficult it can be to try to write when you feel like you have nothing more to say.  But my goal of relationship building through writing never really was accomplished.

Now I realize that is isn’t so much about the back and forth response but the information given from that journal entry and how I respond to it that makes the difference.  I asked my daughter more about her blog entry in person, to clarify some of her imagery and word choices, to ‘check in’ and see how she was doing as ‘the cherry on top of a double scoop cone’ – (In her mind, cherry on top is optional and not really part of the cone…you can still have an ice cream cone and wouldn’t ever need the cherry…but you do need the cone and the ice cream – a bit heart-tugging for this mom to hear)  But I love that she is excited about blogging because I have been blogging.  She has entered the Slice of Life challenge without even knowing about it.  Her motivation isn’t prizes, or upholding personal commitments, or even a certain audience.  Her motivation is clear – like mother, like daughter, and my heart is full.


T minus 10

There are 10 work days before Spring Break.  I’m not sure who needs it more, the students or the teachers.  Everyone feels tired, frustrated, anxious (state tests start in the next few weeks) and overwhelmed.  We need time for rejuvenation, to go at a slower pace for just a little while.

But yet we still had 28 teachers take advantage of an optional book study on Jen Serravallo’s Writing Strategies Book for the next 3 Friday mornings.  I’ve said it before, but I am always inspired by the teachers at my school.  Amidst all the feelings listed above, when it would be easy to say  ‘not one more thing…’, they are still taking time from their busy schedules to come together to learn and collaborate.  They are charged with trying something new this week, which may take them out of their comfort zone and may require them to rearrange their plans a bit.  And still here they are, becoming better teachers of writing.

When this book study is over, we will have a collective language to use surrounding writing goals and strategies.  We will have a community of teachers supporting each other in their pedagogy.  And we will be on Spring Break, where we can take time to reflect, to breathe, and maybe even write a little bit.


Last summer, we took a family vacation of a lifetime…driving from Minnesota to San Francisco and back within 3 weeks time, stopping at 12 National Parks along the way.  Our first destination was Yellowstone.  I loved all the different topography of Yellowstone, from geysers to canyons, plains to mountains.  The wildflowers were breathtaking.  But there were so many people at the most popular stops that it was hard to take in all its majesty. Only if you went backcountry could you really feel Yellowstone’s majesty, which we were lucky to do.  From an early  morning hike to the Petrified Tree and through a wildflower patch (Imagine Julie Andrews singing ‘The Hills are Alive…”), to a horseback ride with some bear sitings, to a hike atop a mountain where the quick thunderstorm left little rainbows reflecting in its mist, nature’s beauty at its finest.

And then we headed to Grand Teton National Park. Just south of Yellowstone, it is much, much smaller and while it too was crowded, it didn’t come close to the Yellowstone masses.  We only had the opportunity to explore this park for the afternoon and evening, but it quickly became one of our favorites.

The following day we got up at the crack of dawn to embark on a whitewater rafting adventure down the Snake River.  It was an unseasonably cold morning, and the coolness of the mountain-fed river was more of a Minnesota reminder than a summer relief. Our trip had two parts, the first being a sightseeing float where we looked for wildlife and enjoyed very mild rapids.  Along for the journey with us was a family from Iowa, who had two sons aged 10 and 13.  The 10 year old and my daughter quickly bonded over Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and the search for the big rapids.  Their dream came true when we hit the second part of our journey. After picking up another family, we embarked on the whitewater adventure the guidebooks boast as a ‘must do’ for the area.

The kids would chant “Ka-hu-na” as we approached the bigger rapids.  The adults took the front of the raft as well as the bulk of the rapids force, with cold river water pummeling down upon us while we kept the raft in the water.  The kids would yell and scream and the minute one rapid was over, shouts of “Ka-hu-na!” would start up again.  When the trip was over, the two ten year olds shared stories and laughed and reminisced about the fun that was just had.

Fast forward 9 months.  Tonight we received a text that our Iowa rafting buddies were in the area and hoped to get together for a quick visit.  The 10 year old wanted to reconnect with my daughter, but I think we are all excited.  We formed a quick friendship over this shared experience, and just the thought of their visit brings back such wonderful memories of a summer adventure we will never forget.

A few days after our trip to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, our camera was stolen our first morning in San Francisco.  (There are signs everywhere that say don’t leave anything in your car…and as we learned quickly, they mean it!)  So we don’t have pictures of those Yellowstone wildflowers, or the mist-filled rainbows, or this shared experience of rapids and wetsuits and the ice cream that followed.  But we have the memories of the stillness of a morning hike, the excitement of a bear in the distance, and the sounds of friendships forming through book talks, bus rides, and chants of “Ka-hu-na”.  And those memories have quickly become some of my favorites.

Breaking Stereotypes

I was so excited to have a regular Girl Scout troop meeting tonight.  The girls are working on their Journey about breaking stereotypes.  They have decided to make a movie about how girls are brave and don’t always like pink.  Many of my girls are frustrated by the gender specific toy aisles, and how packaging for girl toys is often pink and frilly. They have crafted a story about a girl named Ashley who likes to mountain climb, and is confronted by stereotypes along the way.

The other challenge of this activity is working as a team to complete this project.  One girl flat out said that this wasn’t going to work because she doesn’t like to work with other people – she has particular ideas and doesn’t like to compromise.  Other girls want to sit back and watch it all happen before them.  So, we focus on the important roles that each girl will have and see how we can work together for a finished product.

Ironically, one of the roadblocks to teamwork in my troop are the stereotypes surrounding these girls.  Some of the girls are stereotyped as being ‘strange’ or ‘weird’, and other girls in my troop do not like to partner up with them because of the social implications it brings.  Other girls are busy being the ‘goofy’ ones and people have a hard time taking them seriously.  Then there are the ‘sporty’ girls who spend so much time together in their various sports that they can be exclusive to those who show athleticism.  The girls are all in 5th grade, and this separation by stereotype has really escalated this year.  My goal for the rest of the year is to try to bring some clarity to this…to see if they recognize this among themselves.  It is my attempt to combat the ‘mean girls’ that seem to show up earlier and earlier these days.

I think it is important for our girls to feel unstoppable, that there are no barriers from stereotype or otherwise that will get in their way of who they are and what they want to accomplish.  Yet, I also think we need to combat the social stereotypes that can lead to bullying and peer pressure during these pre-teen and teenage years.  Not only should these girls be able to stand up for themselves and what they want to achieve, but they should also stand up to others who create barriers of exclusion and defeated sense of self. These are the brave women we need in this world.

March Madness

I love March Madness. I’m not much of a NCAA or NBA/WNBA basketball fan the rest of the year, but there is something about this tournament that gets me hooked.  At our house, we fill out the brackets with no particular rhyme or reason, no research on stats aside from rankings, and always rooting for the Big 10.  My daughter has an uncanny ability to get a good percentage of these contests correct with her logic, or lack of it.  We hope for the underdog to beat the top seed to create a more exciting Final Four.  It seems to be a better story, hence the “Cinderella” label these teams often receive.

Underdog: A person who is expected to lose in a contest or conflict (Merriam-Webster)

Underdogs have to work harder to prove themselves in situations where others may just be accepted for who they are. They rarely have a large group of supporters.  In fact, they may be ridiculed or unfairly judged be peers.  The only way to shake the ‘underdog’ title is to rise above the dominant forces that may work hard to take them down.  If an underdog succeeds once, it is a fluke more than evidence of talent or skill.

Underdog: A victim of social or political injustice (Merriam-Webster)

In our classrooms, in our schools, who are the underdogs?  Who roots for them? Who may root against them?   We are charged to create classroom communities where all students are celebrated, regardless of who they are, what they look like, the skills they possess, etc.  Based on this, we would assume that teachers are the biggest cheerleaders for underdogs, but I don’t think that is always true.  Conversations in the staff lounge and at team meetings may prove otherwise. We can tire of giving all we have to these students who are challenging in either behavior or academics.

But we need to remember what will make a better story. Not for our sake, but for the sake of the underdog.  The celebrations may seem greater, the victory that much sweeter, when that ‘a-ha’ or breakthrough finally comes. This celebration is not at the expense of others, but in unification over a common cause, to lift up one another in community.

So I’ll fill out my bracket tonight, choosing an underdog or two and hope that they make their way further up the rankings. And in doing so, I am already placing hope and confidence in changing what some may have felt was already the decided outcome. And it makes me wonder – Who else can I do this for in my classroom and my community?



Words Won’t Come

For two nights now, I haven’t felt inspired to write about anything in particular. Usually a topic comes to me and I just roll with it, but I feel as though my brain is stuck with not much to say.

Maybe it’s the January-like cold. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from the weekend (not just the hour lost…stayed up and got up way too early Sat/Sun making baked goods using Girl Scout cookies).

This lack of drive and inspiration has followed me to work this week. I’m so thankful I get to spend so much of my time this week in classrooms with teachers and students, seeing what it is they do best. They are the ones that inspire me each day.

So check back tomorrow, maybe there will be something more poignant to say. Or maybe I’ll write about getting to the end of Girl Scout cookie season, which is the other thing that consumes both my time and my brain these days.

Until then, I think I’ll go grab a thin mint.

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