Saturday, July 29, 2017

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious


As a child, I was fascinated by big words. I would sing the song, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and ponder the enormity of such a word with fourteen syllables. When I encountered a new word in my reading, I would pause and wrap it in my mind, looking for patterns in the spelling, searching for ways I could break it down into chunks to spell it correctly in my own writing. I was determined to spell enormous words with ease, but it was a struggle to simply memorize letter after letter to form one complete word.

In fifth grade I received a notepad with "et cetera" printed on the bottom right corner. It was the first time I realized the abbreviation "etc." was spoken as words and now I could spell it correctly. Wow! The light bulb when off in my head.

A few years later I had an English teacher share her technique for spelling "onomatopoeia." She drew two stick figures on the board, one named Mat and the other named Poe, facing each other. Then she drew speech bubbles over their heads to show their conversation. That's when I learned that I was a visual speller, spelling best when I "see" the words in my mind.


I discovered a love for Scrabble in high school and requested the Deluxe Edition as a birthday gift one year. I felt very mature handling the velvet red cloth bag that held the smooth wooden tiles and begged for people to play with me so I could rotate the game board to them when it was their turn. That same game has since traveled with me through four time zones and nine residences; now my children are discovering the joy of spelling words together.

Today we live in a digital age and the traditional game of Scrabble has been replaced by Words with Friends. Strangers around the world are joining in the game of spelling new words, building one word off the next, sliding letters across the screen.

You can imagine my delight when I discovered magnetic Scrabble tiles we could bring on our trip and place on our Disney cruise cabin door. What better way to engage with other cruisers than to "build" a Scrabble game together?

We placed the letter tiles on the bottom of our door and got the game started with some basic words. 



I will admit there was a little apprehension when we began our interactive game with strangers. 

"Would anyone join in our game?"

 "Would someone place an inappropriate word?"

 "Would people think we were weird?"

We quickly dismissed our concerns, deciding it was worth the risk to have a little fun with others. 

At the end of the day, we were ecstatic to discover new words on our game board! The surge of excitement in my children was a sight to behold! What word would be added next? Who is playing our game? Children? Adults? Are they having as much fun as us?



So we did it the next day. And the next. And the next.

Each day guests interacted with our door. We would catch a glimpse of them as they were passing by, taking a moment to read the words made and adding one of their own. We would see entire families gazing at our door with sentiments like, "That's so cool!" and "I wish we had thought of that!" One woman even posted a photo of herself playing Scrabble on our door to a Disney Cruise Facebook group commenting about the fun she had creating new words in our game..


It might seem a bit unconventional to put a Scrabble board on your cruise ship door, but we did it anyway and it was a success! Imagine that!

Embrace the uncertainty. Take the leap. Bring fun into all you do as you take your passions and share them in a new way. You might be surprised how much joy your simple act can bring to someone else's day!

Below are the results of our collaborative game we "played" with other guests aboard the Disney Dream. To quote Steven Anderson, "Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant!"








Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's a Small World



I love meeting new people. I'm intrigued by life experiences, by commonalities and differences, and I feel the more people I interact with the more my scope for acceptance and understanding expands. While traveling on the Disney Dream, we learned that there were 1,500 employees (cast members) representing 66 countries working on our ship. WOW!

I love that all cast members wear name tags with their first name and home country listed beneath. It was a great conversation starter as we got to know our servers, stateroom attendants, and activity guides.

On our second morning, we stopped in the Bahamas and received an impromptu tour of the city as we traveled by bus. Our driver pointed to the colorful flags decorating the government buildings and explained that they celebrated their national day of Independence the day before, on July 10.



Their country, independent from the United Kingdom for a mere forty-four years, has had their share of highs and lows. Our driver shared stories about their history, their healthcare system, even the impact of tourism on their economic growth the past decade.

The information fascinated me. I was intrigued by their customs and celebrations and how they compared to those we hold sacred in our own country. I wanted to learn more and showcase some of their cultural traditions to my children, to broaden their perspectives of the world around them.

This led me to curiosity about the guests who were sharing in our Disney cruise. Where were they from? How diverse were we as travelers? My children and I placed a whiteboard on the door to our cabin encouraging guests to share where they were from. Imagine our delight when the board was filled in a matter of days!


While many of our fellow travelers were from the United States, our list of locations spanned all four time zones, east to west. We even had a family from Germany and another from Canada stop to add to our board. So great! We located all the places on a map and reveled in the opportunity to mingle with people from around the world.

We were exposed to other languages all around us from guests chatting with their friends and families at the pool, in elevators, and along walkways. The announcements were shared in multiple languages as well, showing us the importance of bilingual skills. This exposure to language was a great springboard to conversations about diversity as my family engaged with others from Singapore, Colombia, and Norway.

My challenge to you today is to expand your circle of diversity. Connect with a stranger who lives in another state/country or teaches a different content area. Follow a blog written in another language and use Google Translate or some other digital tool to translate the content for you. Dig a little deeper to read about other countries and traditions, then share your learning with others. Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the diversity that makes our lives richer, fuller, more complete. It's a small world, indeed! Embrace it!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Be Our Guest


This week and next I will share my reflections from a recent Disney Cruise and the lessons I learned throughout my travels. If you've never been on a cruise before, or even if you've been on ten, I hope you will join me as we sail the seas together!

The first thing you will notice as you embark on a Disney Cruise are the lengths they go to make you feel welcome. From walking through the trademark Mickey ears, to photographing your family with a "Welcome" backdrop, to announcing your arrival as you cross into the gorgeous main atrium, you know this will be a vacation like no other.





A Disney cruise is the epitome of elegance and style with finite attention to detail. However, unlike other cruise lines, Disney was the first to identify families as their target audience. From engaging children clubs to swimming pools with movie screens, there is something for everyone on a Disney Cruise.






Early in our trip, my daughter and father-in-law joined me on an official tour of the Disney Dream. During that tour we learned about the Disney Imagineers with examples shown of their innovative vision. Our guide, Dustin, showcased various locations around the ship as he explained the four key elements in Disney Cruiseline design:

1.  Look and Feel of the Golden Age (think Titanic)
2.  Modern Technology
3.  Storytelling
4.  Transformation

Each space on a Disney Cruise, from the dining rooms to the staterooms (and even the bathrooms!) showcases attention to detail. We were in awe walking around the ship, our eyes drawn to specific attributes such as the stars on the carpet that always pointed towards the forward (front) of the ship.


We enjoyed learning that the left side of the ship has fish hooks because F-I-S-H has four letters like P-O-R-T and the right side of the ship has seahorse hooks because S-E-A-H-O-R-S-E-S has the same amount of letters as S-T-A-R-B-O-A-R-D. We also discovered the ceilings on Deck 5 were lower than the rest of the ship as that was the floor of the kids' clubs and they wanted all children to feel big. They even have 73 Hidden Mickeys (with an additional 20 on their private island, Castaway Cay.) Can you find the Hidden Mickeys in the photos below?






 (That one shows a part of Mickey Mouse.)

Even the waiters got into the fun as they added more Hidden Mickeys to our son's meal:



This astute attention to detail and creating magical experiences made me ponder: How can I make this happen in my real world? Is there a way I can transform my environment, welcoming everyone so that they feel invited as a guest in my home? In my classroom? Are there small details I can include to engage and enrich? What experiences can I design that will make my children and students never want to leave, to beg for more?

I want to dream like Disney and innovate like an Imagineer.

Those are my goals for next year! What changes will YOU make to create new experiences for those you serve? Comment below and join in the conversation!





Saturday, July 22, 2017

Survivor's Guilt



This month has been blur. Two weeks ago, my family and I traveled to Florida for the kickoff of an amazing vacation. We spent a day at Legoland then visited Sea World before boarding a Disney cruise ship to sail the seas with eleven additional family members (16 of us in all).

As many of you know, I'm a cruise gal. I love being whisked away to a different location with the taste of salt in the air, the ocean teasing me with its brilliance right outside my balcony door. I love being pampered (who doesn't?) and enjoying a few days of not cooking dinner, not making my bed, not being the source of entertainment for my children. It's a time for rest, reflection, rejuvenation. Even being disconnected from WiFi and cell service is a blissful change to my normally hectic world.

We plan our cruise vacations years in advance. The anticipation that builds prior to vacation is one that rivals birthday parties, holiday gift-giving, births and weddings. We talk about the activities we can't wait to do. We reminisce about experiences from the last time we cruised. We imagine what will happen the next time we travel.

I take hundreds of photos during our cruises. They are my souvenirs, more precious than any t-shirt or postcard you will find. They remind me of beauty. Kindness. Peace. Joy.

But now, as I'm scrolling through all the photos from our vacation, I feel the need to add another word to that list: Guilt.

See, the cruise we took this year was a gift from my father-in-law, in memory of my mother-in-law who passed away March 2016. They wanted the extended family to have something to look forward to after she was gone, so they arranged for this vacation with everyone together.

Everyone except for mom.

My in-laws have cruised before. In fact, we invited them to share in our own cruise vacation in 2010 when my youngest child was only ten months old. We had a fabulous time making a lifetime of memories that week. Even today, we tease my now seven-year-old how Grandma and Grandpa searched the entire ship for a hot dog bun to appease him. Not the hot dog itself. The hot dog bun.

But now it's different.

My mother-in-law is gone and we are still finding our own ways to heal from that loss.

During this cruise, we visited various ports. As we traveled to the same locations we had shared with her, I could feel her presence in so many ways. Oh, the memories that flooded my heart as we toured the aquarium at Atlantis and strolled the walkway at Castaway Cay! I felt her whisper on my shoulder from the gentle Caribbean breeze and her love from the warmth of the sun. Even at dinner I found myself lost in the conversation as I remembered the way she would smile and laugh at our reflections of the day.

We had an amazing vacation. Now we are home, re-acclimating to our everyday lives, and I am compiling the photos to share.

But now it's different.

My mom is gone, too.

This trip had nothing to do with my mom at all as this was a celebration with my husband's family. In fact, the loss of my mom was never mentioned by anyone the entire week. It wasn't the focus of the trip, therefore it didn't rise to the surface of conversation. It may have been the proverbial elephant in the room or perhaps not even a thought; either way, it wasn't discussed. I briefly referenced her in a passing conversation about childhood memories, but that was it. My mom, her life, her death, were topics only for me to dwell upon.

Now here I am, pouring over hundreds of photos, wondering, "Who do I share these with now?"

Survivor's guilt is real.

It's only been two months since my mom's death and I'm still riding the roller coaster of grief. I am paralyzed by the weight of sorrow as I remember the joy I experienced last week. How could I have allowed myself moments of fun on the heels of my mother's demise? Why am I deserving to be blessed by the generosity of a family-funded vacation? Who really cares about my stories anyway? Why even share this with the world?

I am quickly learning that grief and guilt are seatmates in the cargo space of my mind.

So bear with me a bit as I navigate these crashing waves and searing riptides. My heart is still mending and I may seem a bit disconnected at times.

This coming week I will share stories from my cruise with parallels to my experiences as a mom, an educator, a daughter and friend.  My goal this year is to be more transparent in my reflections, so I thought this would be a great place to start. For those of you still sifting through the pain of loss, perhaps these stories will help us heal together.

I can't share my stories with my mom anymore, so I will share them with you.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Your Story Matters



Today was the first day I've been "back in the groove" following vacation and I was delighted to spend time with my dear friend, Courtney Jones (@PrincipalCEJ). We've known each other about a decade and in that time I've had the pleasure of watching her rise through the ranks of gifted education teacher, assistant principal, and now principal. She is a passionate educator, always willing to share her insights and motivates me in unexpected ways.


One of the first things she said as I sat down was, "How's that book coming along?" I skirted the question with a laugh and told her she sounded just like my mom, always asking when I was going to share my stories between the pages of a hardback novel. Our conversation was free-flowing, one topic leading to the next. We talked about life-changing events like the passing of my mom and joyful moments focused on family and travel. Her eyes sparkled as she shared her experiences of attending the ISTE Conference in June.

It was during that conference that her virtual world of Twitter exploded as she had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring educators, including two of my PLN friends Jennifer Casa-Todd (@JCasaTodd) and Aaron Hogan (@aaron_hogan). It was heartwarming to hear the connection she made with Jennifer, sharing in a hug that was sent all the way from me in Virginia.

Courtney and I chatted about the impact Twitter has had on our professional learning, how the platform has provided an open door to connect with those for whom a connection may have never been made, and we shared a story or two about our "awestruck moments" of meeting our favorite authors in real life.

She told me how Aaron asked why she wasn't blogging. His matter-of-fact approach in questioning Courtney resulted in a quick scroll through her Twitter page and commenting on what he saw. Listening to her retell the story had me laughing as she recounted all the excuses she gave him, none of which deterred him from asking, again, why she wasn't blogging. When she finally admitted that she had started a blog for her school, documenting different events and activities, he looked her straight in the eyes and said these words that stopped her in her tracks:

"You need to tell YOUR story."

Whoa! Wait... what? MY story? About my experiences? Who would want to read THAT?

The answer, my friend, is me.

I want to read your story. I want to know about your experiences. I want to soak up all the knowledge you have gained as an educator, a parent, a volunteer, a lacrosse coach, a surgical patient, a leader and a follower. You have life lessons that I need to hear!

Right now. 

Today.

See, your story matters. You took time out of your busy day to share your stories with me and now I am reflecting on your words, savoring the knowledge that seeps out as I relate your stories to my life. I walked away from our time together lifted up, inspired, challenged, and a bit humbled as I processed everything you shared.

We don't live in the same town. I'm not sure when we will meet again. But I do know that your words inspire. Your experiences remind me that life is filled with highs and lows; it's ok to be real, authentic, embracing the crazy, zany, exuberant people we are. It's ok to fail, to feel the angst of frustration, to find joy in simple moments of the day. And if you start sharing your stories through written text, I can connect with you anywhere, anytime. I can share your story with others. I can refer to your experiences as I'm sharing my own stories and together we can learn and grow.

Your story matters and your story must be told! Jot those notes. Start that blog. Post that link. To quote the very words you spoke today: "You just never know the people you touch when you share your stories with the world." Whether you are writing for #compelledtribe, #teacherswrite, or just #amwriting, your story can impact thousands with just a few clicks of a keyboard.

Thank you for rejuvenating me in ways I didn't even know I needed. Now get to writing! You know Jennifer and Aaron will be messaging you soon asking, "Have you started that blog yet?" After all, to quote Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), "Only YOU can tell the story someone else needs to hear!"