Friday, April 28, 2017

I Radiate




It's been a tough week.

Really tough.

Several of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to my kindness blog might know that my mom has been battling cancer. She is twenty-two months into a journey that, without treatment, would have ended in two.

My mom is a fighter.

She was hospitalized last week with breathing difficulties and since that time she's gotten worse. We have always tried to celebrate joy in the journey as shown through my blog posts Yellow Brick Road (8/13/15) and Taking Care of Business (4/29/16) as my mom has wanted to share her experiences with terminal cancer publicly, the good and the bad.

This week was filled with both.

I have known my mom for 44 years and in that time I can attest that she is a spitfire in spirit. This week she had to make some really difficult decisions that brought tears, sadness, and heartache. One might think that this is where the story ends, but oh... it's only the beginning! We have already lived countless moments of joy and I want to share more stories with you.

On Wednesday, my mom was strong and courageous. We celebrated by making orange sherbert smoothies in her hospital bed at the suggestion of her favorite nurse, Jessica. She drank three cups! This was an amazing feat to accomplish as her appetite is non-existent these days and it's very difficult for her to swallow.

We also love to take selfies.
Thursday was her first day of radiation treatments. She has already finished three complete rounds of chemo and tried immunotherapy. She will have one treatment each day for up to ten days, as long as her body can tolerate the side effects. I wanted to do something extra special for this milestone so I asked my friend Holly if she could print "I Radiate" on something my mom could wear. As a bonus, I asked if she could add a sunshine image, too.

This proved to be a tricky task as my mom has many tubes attached to her body, so a printed t-shirt wasn't a viable option. Holly searched all over town to find a cap she could use, but alas, no such luck. It was in the midst of her travels that Holly found the perfect item to personalize: a delicate necklace with a heart cut-out and sunshine charm to the side:


But the best was yet to come... when you turn over the little sunshine charm, you have my #oneword for 2016: 

Joy


Holly then insisted that I take this necklace as a gift for my mom, and ultimately for me, so I will always remember the joy in the journey. She wanted nothing in return but moments of memories to share.

My mom couldn't wait to wear it around her neck.


This week has been tough, but I've had amazing moments of kindness shown to me and my mom. Her husband, Bob, and best friend, Debbie, bought her new pajamas. She has more candy and crossword puzzles than she knows what to do with and I brought her new pens to write with because we share the same obsession for school supplies.

She got to eat an authentic Boston Lobster Roll from The Continental Westhampton (one of the few items still left on her bucket list.) She has a frog stuffed animal by her side and flowers along her shelf. She even received a precious frame from a friend that included a photo of her and her husband with a quote she posted on Facebook Monday evening: "No Negative Thoughts Allowed."



                                               

Her Facebook post on Wednesday was sweet and sincere, welcoming "short friendship visits." One person who stopped by on Thursday was a dear friend of mine from high school, Pam. Three years ago to the day, she and I took smiley faced balloons to hospital patients in memory of her mom who had passed away years ago; this year she brought one to my mine.


My coworkers have shown kindness in a multitude of ways. Several have reached out with offers of transportation, food, and "call me if you need anything" emails and texts. My boss has been amazingly kind and understanding. Krista and Suzi covered my bus duty two days in a row and Kim oversaw my Open Lab time on Friday so students can put the final touches on their Kindness Passion Projects.

I even received an email from Ellen, who was home recovering from surgery. I had signed up to bring her family a meal on Friday; she politely reached out on Thursday to refuse my meal so I could take that time to spend with my mom.

Because time is precious, especially now.

And who could resist spending time with a lady who radiates from inside and out?

Today we choose Joy.



I'm sharing experiences as a mom and daughter on Family Friday - subscribe below so you never miss a post!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sleep Deprivation

Do you know someone who has a newborn or infant at home?  If you are a parent, do you remember those days of sleepless nights?  Being the mom of three children, I’ve been down this road several times and each time I thought it would NEVER end.   I was blessed with children who laughed in the face of every parenting book I read.  “Ha, to you,” I imagined them taunting, “I will NOT sleep through the night at six weeks; I will NOT sleep through the night at six months; in fact, I may not even sleep through the night at six YEARS!  BAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Sleep.  What a wonderful time for our bodies to be rejuvenated.  Hours and hours of uninterrupted restoration from the stresses of the day.  Unless, of course, you are the parent of an infant.  Your evenings, previously marked by sweet slumber, are now timed by the clock from one feeding to the next.  If you are lucky enough to close your eyes and drift off for an hour or two, you are suddenly awakened by the shrill cries of a special little someone demanding, “FEED ME!!”  Then, in your bleary state of consciousness, you get the baby, change the baby, feed the baby (not counting the time it takes to make or heat a bottle if you are bottle feeding) then start the cycle all over again.  (And that’s if the baby goes back to sleep after feeding!)
I remember those days all too well.  In fact, just typing the paragraph above exhausted me!  How on EARTH do we, as parents, survive those first few months?  It is a small sacrifice to pay for the joys of having a child and over time the pain of sleepless nights does fade to a weathered snapshot we place in our mental scrapbooks.  But is there anything we can do DURING the process to make it a little easier?
Which brings me to my next Act of Kindness.  A dear friend of mine is living this reality right now.  She. Is. Tired.  I know she would never ask for help (and living several hours away, she wouldn’t feel comfortable with me keeping her baby for a weekend), so instead of waiting for an invitation, I simply made the decision to visit her for an overnight stay and bless her and her husband with one night of uninterrupted sleep.
I arrived in the evening, after dinner time, and told them of my plans.  “Please don’t go to any extra trouble – I can sleep on the sofa!”  A pillow and a blanket was all I needed.  The baby was simply precious.  Big brown eyes staring up at me, little fingers grasping my hand as I held the bottle to his mouth… oh, the joy!  Seven hours and two bottles later, the house was silent as I rocked this little jewel back to sleep, just in time to see the sunrise.
As an extra act of kindness, I decided to make breakfast for the family.  Ham and cheese omelets.  Pancakes.  The works.  It was such a blessing to ME to surprise my friends with not only a full night’s sleep, but a full stomach as well.
What did this Act of Kindness cost me?  A few hours of lost sleep.  The bottles were made with formula they had already purchased.  The breakfast was made with ingredients found in their fridge and pantry.  My friends woke up refreshed.  Restored.  Rejuvenated.  All from a simple act of kindness.
If you see a parent today who looks a bit weary, think of a way you could bless them.  Kindness is free!  A smile, a word of encouragement… such simple things that make a difference.  Be blessed my friends and pay it forward!

On Throwback Thursday I'm sharing favorite posts from my Random Acts of Kindness journey. Share below how you've shown kindness with the world!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Save and Spend



"Mommy, can you help me count my money?"

My seven year old is obsessed with numbers. He loves to count, even multiply, doing much of the math in his head. It makes me chuckle sometimes because his older brother was the same way (and still is for the most part.)

Instead of stopping my chores, I challenged him while he waited. "Can you think of different ways to make a dollar? Put them in groups and I'll be there in a bit."

A few minutes passed as I finished folding laundry, then he came running back into my room. "I'm almost there! I've got $7.50!"

The excitement in his voice switched my priorities in an instant. The laundry sat on my bed, not put away, as I followed him into his room. On the floor he had neat little stacks of pennies and nickels, all grouped correctly: 10 pennies in a stack with 10 stacks together; 10 nickels in a stack with 2 stacks together.

I checked his math; he was right. $7.50 in coins!

"How much more money do you need?" I asked. He pondered for a moment, then jumped up just as excited as he was before. 

"I need $2.50 to get up to $10! I bet I have that in quarters!"

He pulled out his small quarter collector and counted each quarter inside. "Mommy! I have $3.00 in quarters! That means I will still have fifty cents left!"

In less than twenty minutes, my son not only realized he could use the coins he's been saving to buy a Lego toy he's been eyeing up, but he also mastered some pretty impressive math for only being in second grade.

We put his $10 in change in a ziplock bag then put the extra pennies and nickels back in his bank to start saving again.


We went to Target and he found his toy. As we approached the checkout line, I was curious to see how the self checkout worked. (And, let's be honest, I figured it would be an awesome random act of kindness to NOT make the cashier have to count out 200 pennies, 60 nickels and 20 quarters!)

You can image our joy when we discovered the tiny coin slot in the self checkout machine! Our little guy was able to "spend" each and every coin he brought.



It was fascinating to watch the computer count down the money he had inserted and show how much money still  needed to be paid.


Even his older brother got in on the fun, helping him to push the coins in faster and faster.


Through trial and error we learned that when the light is green everything works great. When the green light disappears, however, you have to wait a few moments as the machine finishes counting the inserted coins. 

Finally we were done. My children got to experience saving and spending in a new way, all of which emphasized math skills. 

For those of you wondering, "What about the dimes?" we have a separate saving system for them. We are saving our Dimes for Disney!


I'm sharing experiences as a mom on Family Friday - subscribe below so you never miss a post!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Kindness Compliments



Recently I ate lunch at a local fast food restaurant.  Hoping for a “quick bite to eat” I was instantly dismayed when I opened the door to the restaurant and saw the line snaking back and forth, three rows deep.  REALLY?  I thought fast food was supposed to be FAST!  As I pondered the irony, I debated if I should get back in my car and venture into the drive through line.  One peek out the side window told me that I was probably better off where I was.
The line, although long, was moving forward at a decent rate, so I busied my mind thinking about all the things that needed to be done before the end of my work day.  It wasn’t until I got to the second row that I started noticing my surroundings.  The lady in front of me had coupons, and was chatting animatedly with the man beside her about how excited she was to get a good deal on the food.  The man behind me stared off into space, possibly thinking of his own to-do list.  A cute little girl, about the age of six, twirled around and around, delighting in the way her dress swirled out with each spin.  Just another day in a fast food line.
Entering the first row, I shifted my attention to the fast food workers.  The cashier was speaking into a microphone, holding it so close to his mouth I wondered how on earth anyone could hear his garbled orders.  The drive-through attendants were working their station like busy bees, flitting from one area to another, grabbing, stuffing, bagging.  And then I noticed HER.
Petite and dark-skinned, this worker was in charge of preparing the dine-in food.  She wore a standard uniform consisting of a navy polo with khaki pants.  “JAMEKA” was printed across her name tag, announcing to the world who she was in an attempt for customers to feel more connected with the servers.  She worked with speed, accuracy, and skill. Paper plates on plastic trays were filled to overflowing with chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes and more.  She not only kept up with the rapid succession of orders, but did so with a grace that showed she knew her stuff.  Even when the older lady three people ahead of me changed her order from dine-in to carry-out, Jameka didn’t bat an eye.  She simply grabbed a box and transferred the food, even making sure the customer had napkins and condiments before she could ask.
I knew right then that she would be my next act of kindness.  As she passed my tray across the serving station, I asked her where I might find a customer comment card.  “Ma’am,” she replied, “We don’t have those kind of cards.  You can call the phone number on the receipt.”  You could tell by the tone in her response that I was not the first person to ask for a comment card (and, to be perfectly honest, I bet she thought I had a complaint to file!)
I looked her in the eyes and said, “Well, the reason why I asked is because I want to tell someone how GREAT you are!  You have handled all these orders so amazingly and I’ve been impressed by your work ethic.  Watching you do your job has put a smile on my face and I just feel like your boss, or SOMEONE, needs to know how good you are at what you do!”  The smile that spread across her face was reward for us both!  “Well, thank you, Ma’am!” she giggled, then turned away to complete yet another order.
After eating my lunch, I called the number on the receipt, which was also posted on the back of the bathroom door.
I spoke with the customer service representative, who was overjoyed to document a PRAISE instead of concern.  “We will make sure this is brought to the attention of Jameka’s management team.  We want her to get credit for her great customer service today!”  The phone call alone gave me chill bumps.  I felt like THREE people had been blessed with this act of kindness: the customer service rep didn’t have to deal with an irate customer, Jameka heard first hand how her actions were noticed, and I was practically giddy to share in the joy!
The next time you are eating in a fast food restaurant, take a moment to notice those around you.  Whether customers, cashiers, or servers, maybe you can find one person to bless with a compliment?  A smile and a kind word are free blessings you can share (and you will be blessed, too!)
Have a wonderful week my friends and celebrate kindness wherever your travels take you!

On Throwback Thursday I'm sharing favorite posts from my Random Acts of Kindness journey. Share below how you've shown kindness with the world!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Virtual Reality in College Recruitment



If your child is college bound, their junior and senior years of high school are crucial for making the grade and showcasing your hard work to attract the eye of college admission officers.

Now that my daughter is completing her final months of high school, I feel like I could write an entire book on all the tasks we had to complete as parent and child. (Who knows - maybe I just might write that book after all!)

We've visited the college campuses. We've listened to the energetic tour guides and walked miles in the summer heat. (Fun fact: I was a college tour guide more than 20 years ago!)

We've scoured the websites, attended informational sessions, and marked each email that has arrived in our inbox. We've sent the RSVPs, met the college representatives and even been spoiled with a reception at The Jefferson Hotel.

It's no surprise that college recruitment is a big business; after all, schools need you just as much as you need them. What has been fascinating to me is the ways in which the colleges and universities woo you.

We've received handwritten notes, refrigerator magnets, pens and pencils. One school provided a personalized parking space with my daughter's name for our tour and a T-shirt and cup when the tour was done.



Today we received a unique surprise: an invitation to see the campus using virtual reality (VR).

As a tech integrator, I know that virtual reality has been a growing buzzword, even from my early introduction using Aurasma for student book talks. With the advent of Google Cardboard and 360 degree cameras, the world really is at our fingertips as we can walk, stop, and look. In fact, just last week I worked with a fourth grade class as we explored the surface of Mars using the Nearpod app and a class set of iPads.

Even with those experiences, I was completely surprised when my daughter opened a small package from one of her preferred schools today. Inside was a letter explaining the basics of virtual reality and a Google Cardboard viewer with the school's logo printed on the front.


We downloaded the VR Showcase app, put the Cardboard player together (much easier than assembling Ikea furniture, I might add), and placed her phone inside.
Immediately this beautiful college campus appeared in the background with options as to what school we wanted to explore.

All I can say is... WOW!

Talk about stepping up your game! My daughter walked around our living room and down the hall pointing out the buildings of her future home. She was already impressed with this school, but this was like icing on top. Now she can "see" exactly where she will spend her next four years from the convenience of her bedroom.



She was even able to showcase her new school to her Grandpa when he stopped by for a visit:


Educators, times are changing and the colleges are keeping up. They have Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups. They want students to showcase themselves in digital portfolios using the ZeeMee app and now they have discovered how to use VR to attract the best of the best.

Are we doing all we can to prepare our students for these experiences?

I would love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or reply on Twitter - let's learn and grow together!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rolling Down the Hill



When was the last time you rolled down a hill?

Wait. Maybe I should ask a different question first.

Have you ever rolled down a hill?

This week I watched my thirteen year old son help a five year old in his first attempts at rolling down a hill. Now, this wasn't your run-of-the-mill backyard hill, mind you. Oh, no. This was a massive hill. Huge. Towering. One that leaves you out of breath as you try to climb the entire thing while still standing vertically.

Then you get to the top and look down.

Imagine the fear in the five year old who has never done this before. Imagine the confidence of the thirteen year old who only remembers the exhilaration of the ride. How can the two bridge this gap?




Click here to see it all unfold if the video above doesn't play.

Sometimes as adults we have to get out of the way and let the learning happen. It might not be perfect, it might not be the way we would have done it, but it's learning just the same.

It counts.

It matters.

It's important.

I loved watching my child coach my friend's son. He explained what would happen. He emphasized the positive. He guided him in the process. He watched on the side as the younger boy tried his own technique. He celebrated with him when he was done.

Both boys ended up at the bottom of the hill; both were smiling, happy, and proud.

And I was a proud Momma, too.

My son, Daniel, and I leaving Maymont Park.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

They Said It Would Be Easy



"This is the easy part."

I stared back at those words as my eyes raced across the screen. The directions seemed easy enough - after all, the tagline said the post was written by a 13 year old. I am 44. Surely I can figure this out.

I glanced over the "easy part" and scrolled down. Way down. Half a page down. THIS was the easy part? Are you kidding me?

I scrolled back up quickly and read the words again. Slowly.

This. Is. The. Easy. Part.

Scroll down. Scroll up.

Scroll down. Scroll up.

I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.

I must be an idiot if I can't do the easy part.

Why am I wasting my time on something that I just can't understand?

This was my experience yesterday as I sat on my sofa, baffled by the nuances of HTML code. I was trying to add a place where my readers could subscribe to my blog via email (so when I publish a new post they will get a message emailed to them), but for the life of me, I could not figure out where I was supposed to paste the elaborate code I had copied from another website into my blog.


Let me stop here to get one fact straight: I am NOT an idiot.

But I sure felt like one.

How many times have students felt like this in our classes? We've taught the content they are supposed to learn, yet they stare back at us with confused expressions or outright frustration.

They don't get it.

And quite frankly, neither do we.

There's this phrase floating around called "The Curse of Knowledge." According to the Harvard Business Review, this "curse" manifests when one person, who has mastered a particular content, tries to explain it to someone who hasn't. We become so confident in our understanding that our brains simply skip over the basic, logical explanations and instead turn to generalities or expanded thoughts that glean over the surface instead of penetrating deep within. This creates a barrier to learning, whether in business, education, or any other realm.

As I scrolled through more than 2,400 lines of HTML code on this exact website you are reading today, I wanted basic language. No assumptions of prior knowledge. No jargon or descriptive terminology. Just tell me where to go, what to do, and how to do it right.

And then... I started to tinker.

I realized I could change the color by changing a few numbers after the hashtag. If I added "true" instead of "false" I could make things appear that weren't there before. I could change the title of my automated response and adjust widths and heights to fit my screen.


I made a few mistakes as I went along. Ok, I made a LOT of mistakes in the beginning. But the more I started to tinker with the code (and realize that I wasn't really breaking anything that couldn't be fixed), my confidence grew and I started to actually understand a little bit of what I was doing.


Does this mean I'm a master hacker and I can create code for anything I want to design? Of course not! I cannot possibly learn all there is to know about coding from just a few hours of tinkering.

But it's a start.

I know more than when I began.

I can move to the next step.

I am no longer paralyzed by fear.

These are the lessons I learned about myself today and they are great reminders for my work with students, teachers, and district leaders.

Sometimes we have to pull back a little and make the learning easier to understand.

We need to give others the green light to tinker and try.

Failure needs to be embraced as steps in the learning process.

Then celebrate the success!

If you would like to give my coding a try - enter your email address below to subscribe to this blog! You will have to verify a message that will be sent to your email - and it might end up in your spam folder, who knows - but once you do that, you will never miss a post! Give it a try and let's see if it works!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Love My School Day


If you know me in person (and perhaps even if you are a virtual friend), you know that I will celebrate everything. It's true! Every day is filled with moments worthy of joy, worthy of celebration, it's all in how we choose to acknowledge them. You can imagine my delight when I came across the #lovemyschoolday hashtag on Twitter - an entire day dedicated to positive posts about our students, our schools, our profession!

 Yes, I know I'm on Spring Break, but who can resist writing about things that bring you joy?

This is my ninth year working at the same elementary school. While this may not seem like much of an accomplishment for a 20 year veteran in education, if you read my "About Tamara" tab on this website you will learn that I have lived and worked in many places across the United States. Each place I've worked, each position I've held, has taught me skills, techniques, and even life lessons that have shaped the educator I am today.

Now here I am, after more than a decade of travels, working for the same school district my husband and I attended when we were young. My school is the same school where my husband hung his backpack and played on the playground; his childhood home still stands just two streets over.

There is something comforting about working in a place that reminds you of your childhood.

The first day I arrived on campus, students held the door for me even before they knew my name. Teachers stopped by my room to introduce themselves and say hello. I quickly learned that I was a welcomed addition to their school community and to this day those moments warm my heart.

As a technology integrator, my job is unique as I don't have a class of my own; in fact, much of my position focuses on providing professional development about technology integration to teachers, then supporting them as they use technology with their own students. However, my teachers know my passion for leading and learning with students and often invite me in to collaborate and co-teach lessons they may not have taught on their own.

Our teachers look out for one another. We surprise one another with acts of kindness: a special treat waiting on your desk, a kind note when you've had a challenging day, a smile as you pass down the hall. Our administrators are flexible and understanding. If you have a new idea you want to try, you will often receive the green light to move forward. I love our support staff, our cafeteria gals, and everyone who shares the load in making our school so wonderful.

Even with all these shout-outs, the main reason why I love my school is the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. We have more than 600 students on our campus and each morning they come rushing in, ready to start a new day. Oh, the joy of sharing a part of their journey! To stand beside them as they finally master a task, to be the recipient of their "ah-ha" moment - this is privilege I hold dear to my heart. 

Each day I have students visit me in the Tiny Tech Cafe "just for a quick hug" or to show me something they created at home. They greet me by name, always with a smile, and remind me daily why I choose this profession over others.

Today, even as I am away from school on Spring Break, I am reminded why I love my school. 

Relationships matter.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Overcoming Fear



"So what are you doing during Spring Break?" This common question reverberates off classroom walls as teachers and students share their plans for the week ahead. Out-of-state vacations and local attractions top the list. Many people are choosing to unwind, unload, and refresh during this week of reprieve; catching a quick breath before the fast track of another school year comes to an end.

What am I doing this Spring Break? Purchasing my first website domain.

As many of you know, I'm a multi-dimensional writer. I began my writing journey in 2012, dabbling with fonts and images as I documented my adventures blessing 40 individuals with random acts of kindness. My toes crossed from sand to sea as I dipped into this new experience, my expectations low and my audience small.

Within months my audience grew and thanks to Ann Curry, my world expanded from sea to ocean as I waded in with more followers and additional opportunities to write. I participated in my first virtual writing camp, #TeachersWrite, led by two of my favorite writers: Kate Messner and Gae Polisner. I kept writing and posting, sharing my thoughts with the world. Along the way, I was encouraged by other writers, such as Greg Armamentos and Craig Vroom, who included me in their world of #CompelledTribe writers.

I began an educational blog, trying to keep my personal passions for kindness and professional perspectives in education separate, but accessible.

I nearly drowned from the riptides of spreading myself too thin.

I've reached a place in my life where the line has blurred. I am many things to many people and these characteristics constantly overlap. As George Couros pointed out at our recent professional development session: "Why are you trying to do both things separately?"

I am a mom. I am an educator. I am a writer. I am all these things and more.

Today I am embracing who I am with a new focus - to write about experiences from all aspects of my life: as a parent, a teacher, a daughter, a friend.

Moving forward, this website will become my new sharing space. I hope you will follow me, join in the fun, and leave me a comment or two as I branch out and share my thoughts on a multitude of topics.

Who knows? Perhaps as I wade through this redirection, I might find the courage to face my fears, hold my breath, and dive full in.