Saturday, September 30, 2017

My First Motherless Birthday


Today is my first motherless birthday.

The weight of those words has been lingering in the shadows, creeping up on me as the calendar page flips from August to September and the chill of fall permeates darkened nights. I've been pretty good at evading the thought as life returns to its natural state of busy: school begins, work begins, activities begin.

But that also means that birthday season begins and mine has arrived today.

My mom is gone.

Forever.

I am officially motherless on the day my mom gave me life.

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I have always loved celebrations. My childhood was a bit disjointed with divorced/remarried parents, but I remember those few occasions where my mom felt comfortable enough to open the door and host a birthday party for me and my friends.

They were carefully orchestrated events, mind you, as my mom was a detail-oriented planner and masked the dysfunction so beautifully not a single person knew what really happened in our home.

I remember my 6th birthday when I was allowed to wear a paper princess crown and pretty party dress. My mom and stepfather had been married for almost a year.


I remember my 9th birthday when I was allowed to have some of my friends spend the night. Even though I was "the new kid" in town, I was delighted to receive the "yes" RSVPs and my mom planned games with prizes for us to win.

It was the first, and only, birthday sleepover I remember.


I remember my 16th birthday when I was allowed to invite every single person from marching band into my home and was shocked when so many people wanted to attend. It was a night filled with music, laughter, and fun; I never wanted it to end.

When I turned 18 it was just my mom and I sharing a private meal at The Jefferson Hotel, marking my transition into adulthood and her separation from my stepfather. The bruises on her skin were no longer visible, but the lacerations on her life were open wounds. It was a pivotal birthday for us both. We were at the crossroads of change: mine filled with promise, hers filled with despair.

I wish we had taken a photo of us together that day.

As my childhood came to a close, I realized I didn't have a single photo of us together on my birthday.

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When I turned 21, we finally had someone take a picture of us celebrating my birthday. My mom was 39 years old, a recovering alcoholic, still picking up the pieces from a suicide attempt a year and a half before.

I am older today than she was in that photo.


No matter how crazy things were, no matter what was going on in her world, my mom always had a yearly tradition of calling me on my birthday, right at the moment I was born: 3:01 pm. If I didn't answer the phone, she would leave a voice message, making sure I knew that she was thinking of me RIGHT when I came into this world.

As technology advanced, she would leave me Facebook messages, timing it just right so they posted exactly at 3:01 pm. It's a sweet memory that makes my heart ache a little today, as I know there will be no more 3:01 pm messages from her.

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When my mom turned 60, I returned the birthday blessings by taking her back to The Jefferson Hotel for their Champagne Brunch, just the two of us.

She didn't drink the champagne, but laughed when I took a sip of mine. I remember my nose crinkling as I giggled saying, "I don't do champagne either."

It was 21 years after my 21st birthday; we made sure to capture the memory with photos.




As you can see, she was happy. Remarried. Retired. Radiant.

Her life had come full circle.

It was birthday joy in every way.

Three years later she was gone.

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I credit my mom for instilling my love of reading. I was blessed to grow up in a home with endless access to books even though the public library and shopping mall were more than a half hour drive away. In fact, I think she was more excited by the Scholastic Book Order forms that arrived in my weekly school folder than I was, meticulously circling the books SHE liked then persuading me to read them, too.

One of our favorite stores was B. Dalton Bookstores, then Barnes & Noble, where brightly-colored book covers lined shelves from wall-to-wall, the library-themed ambiance quiet, subdued, respectful. I have been known to get "lost" in a bookstore a time or two; it's my happy place filled with words and wonders that allow me to escape.

Bookstores remind me of my mom.

As my birthday approached, I was wondering if I would see some "sign", some God-wink, some hidden message revealed to remind me that my mom is with me on my special day even though no longer here in sight.

I meandered through the aisles of Barnes & Noble, glancing at book titles, flipping through pages of books that caught my eye, feeling the alluring pull of solidarity that only an avid reader understands. That's when a side display caught my eye:


It was a God-wink from my mom.

If you knew my mom, then you knew she was passionate about many things: Boston Red Sox baseball, New England Patriots football and collecting frogs. (No, not real ones, they are way too jumpy!)

Every single birthday I made a point to give her something frog-related, whether it was a birthday card with a frog image or a quirky frog collectible she would proudly display in her home. Frogs were her "thing" and she made no secret of the delight she experienced when she received something, anything, with a frog on it.

This display made my heart so happy as I know it was a God-wink just for me. So many birthday bags lined up in a row, of all the birthdays I've had and those yet to come with one, lone, frog-themed bag on top, representing the one person who made all those birthdays possible.

Thanks for the birthday wishes, Mama. You made me smile.


Today I am 45 years old.

I am halfway to 90.

I am now the matriarch of my little family unit, making my own children's birthday memories shine like the candle on my cake.

I am motherless, but my mother lives on through me.

Birthdays matter. 

Celebrate!




Friday, September 29, 2017

The Power of a Smile


This week I made it my mission to smile at 10 people a day (at least.) It was my simple way to bring a little joy into this world and brighten my day as well!

Oh friends, let me tell you. Smiling is my FAVORITE! (Did you just get a mental image of a grown man smiling in an elf costume? Ha! Made you smile!)

Its true, I love to smile. In fact, it's hard for me not to smile at someone. Genuine smiles have no language barrier, no socio-economic status, no argumentative catalyst; in fact, I might go so far as to say that simply smiling could help you live a longer, happier life. (Hey, don't take my word for it, the research agrees with me, too!)

So this week, I smiled.

And smiled.

And smiled.

There were times when I didn't feel like smiling, but I did it anyway.

I looked up. I looked AT people, not through them or around them or in spite of them. I waited for their eyes to meet mine, even if for just a brief moment, then I smiled.

You know what happened next?

Every. Single. Person. Smiled. Back.

Every person! Every single one! Do you know how awesome that feels to have someone smile back at you when you smile first? I mean, it's one thing to smile at people you know, students in your school, neighbors on your street. It's a totally different ball game when you are smiling at random strangers!

But smile I did and they all smiled back.

THIS IS JOY!

After a week of smiling at people, I met someone whose smile was so radiant, I had to take a photo of her:


Meet Barbara. She works at the Wawa convenience store on Rt. 301 in Mechanicsville, Virginia, and she is overflowing with joy! I stopped in for #NationalCoffeeDay and she delightfully told me my cup of coffee was FREE in honor of the themed holiday! (Thanks, Wawa, for the wonderful act of kindness!)

Now free coffee can definitely make me smile. When Barbara smiled at me and said with the light lilt in her voice as she waved me away, "Your coffee is FREE! You're all set! Enjoy your day!" my smile grew and I wanted to hug her. It brightened my day SO MUCH I actually got right back in line just to greet her again and snap her photo.

She was still smiling when I left the store.

Which made me smile even more.


How many people have YOU smiled at today? Do you believe in the power of a smile? I challenge you to smile at 10 people a day for the next week. Then you can report back and let me know how all those smiles multiplied and how many smiles were paid forward simply because you took a moment to make a small shift in your disposition.

Smile.

Smile big.

Smile often.

Embrace the joy of someone else's smile.

You really do have the power to change someone's day!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Talk Like a Pirate Day


Today we celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day and had a BLAST learning on the high seas! 

As an ITRT, I don't have an assigned set of students to work with so I needed to wrangle up a few Pirate Leaders who would sail the seas for pirate adventures.  I sent an email to teachers and quickly filled my day with lesson requests!

We landed on four activites for teachers to select; each Pirate Plan was customized for student needs and teacher preferences. Some teachers wanted an hour long session with three rotations. Others only had 30 minutes to spare. Like hearty pirates charting the course, we adapted our maps to make each lesson engaging and filled with hands-on learning opportunities! 

To hook our fellow pirates in the adventures yet to come, I visited their classrooms in full pirate regalia the day before to leave a little hook of treasure to come. Oh, I wish you could have seen their faces when I walked through their doors! It was a perfect way to build anticipation for what was to come! (Thanks, Dave Burgess!)




This morning my crew mates arrived, ready to start our day as Pirate Leaders. We knew there would be lots of excitement in store!


Below is a list of our lessons crafted for Talk Like a Pirate Day. I've included links to resources you can use as well!

Talk Like a Pirate

 

Students used props to dress like a pirate then create a sentence using Pirate Words. Once they wrote their sentence on their sheet, they recorded their pirate talk using the Flipgrid app on an iPad!




We even offered a private recording studio for any pirates who wanted to record in secrecy. 


If you want your own studio, check out this link from Ikea - thanks, Joe Merrill, for the great idea! Another round of thanks to Flipgrid and Claudio Zavala for the awesome stickers you sent!

Calculate Like a Pirate


To calculate like a pirate, you must be wise to solving problems as they arise. Students grabbed an iPad and searched for "hidden treasure" around the room (aka Pirate Problem QR code sheets), then scanned the QR code with our i-Nigma app to discover pirate-themed word problems to solve. 


This second grade crew was so quick with their scanning, I couldn't snap a photo of them in action, but caught them reading and problem solving on their own.

Sail Like a Pirate


I will let you in on a little secret, mateys. Pirates only find treasure through persistence. There has to be a plan. You have to be prepared for rough seas. You must engage your crew from the start - no scallywags allowed!

Our Sail Like a Pirate activity challenged the crews to design a ship with one piece of aluminum foil, one popsicle stick, and all the tape they desired. They then tested the strength of their ship by placing it on the high seas (a bucket filled with water) and adding their treasure (pennies and gold coins). 

How much treasure could their ship hold before sinking? Could they redesign their ship to hold more? Did it matter where they placed their popsicle stick or how they stacked their treasure?


 


One student creatively discovered she could break her one popsicle stick into two pieces to create a more balanced ship!

After students tested their best prototype, they used the Flipgrid app on the iPad to describe their ship design and how much treasure they gained.


This was the first day our students used Flipgrid - no specialized tech tool training required! Just type in the code, tap the plus sign and record!

Code Like a Pirate

 

One of my favorite activities was teaching the students how to code - WITHOUT TECHNOLOGY! A pirate paradox? Shiver me timbers! Students used a basic chart to design their own treasure maps, complete with landlubber obstacles and a key. Then they created a Pirate Code to safely guide their crew to the loot. 


Some classes turned their pirate maps into coordinate grids. Others focused on cardinal directions found on a compass rose. Our fifth grade buccaneers learned how to shorten their code with repeaters, casting a hook into more complex algorithms! 






Pirates had an opportunity to swap their maps with other pirates to test the validity of their code. (That's right - validity. Our pirates can handle big words!) Pirates who received question marks beside their codes didn't throw a man overboard, but tried their code again to problem-solve their mistake. 


We even inspired other pirates to do lessons of their own - Pirate Ambrose and Pirate Tapper led their crew to create unique pirate names and craft pirate patches, recording their creations in Flipgrid!

Our pirate fun continued through Back-to-School Night as buccaneers entered our Innovation Lab to showcase their learning. How fun to add some parent pirates to our crew as they worked with their children to Talk Like a Pirate, too!



All in all, our pirate adventures were a smashing success! Students were engaged in authentic learning experiences with relevant applications of math, science, language arts, engineering, technology and more!

Did you know that you can experience Talk Like a Pirate Day ANY day you choose? Why limit yourself to a specific date on the calendar? Chart your course, set sail and create a learning experience your students will never forget!


A special thanks to our Pirate Leaders whose transformed their students into pirate crews for today's lessons:
Ms. Ambrose
Mrs. Cross
Mrs. Joyner
Mrs. Madison
Mrs. Miller
Mrs. Mohr
Mrs. Tapper















Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Power of Support



When I tell people I'm an ITRT, it's almost always followed by "What's that?" Rather than hand them the 43 page handbook provided by the Virginia Department of Education documenting my roles and responsibilities, I simply respond with this:

"I'm a technology integrator. I support teachers as they learn how to use technology with their students in the classroom."

My role is support.

My official title is Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT), but it's a little misleading at times. I don't have a class filled with students to call my own. I'm not a resource teacher that works with every student in the school each week. I don't teach a keyboarding class.

I am a teacher of teachers.

My purpose is instruction.

My tool is technology.

My role is a resource. 

All ITRTs are licensed teachers. We taught at least three years in the classroom prior to this role and many of us hold advanced degrees and certifications. (I have my masters degree in Educational Leadership and am licensed as a K-5 teacher and PK-12 administrator.) Every five years we provide documentation for relicensure which includes almost two hundred hours or more of professional development in our field.

Our resumes extend past the page as we take on leadership positions in our schools and district, manage projects and initiatives, present at conferences and more. But at the end of the day, our role as teachers is support.

We are here for you.

My first week of school was vastly different than my fellow classroom teachers. Each day was filled with meetings. Team-building activities. Project planning. Collaboration. Learning. Troubleshooting. The trays of information set before us constantly shifted as we prioritized, projected and planned.

See, most of the time we are not on the front lines of instruction. While there are times we collaborate in the classroom co-leading lessons with teachers, the bulk of our job is placed in the foundation that creates the support structure for learning to occur.

We provide professional development for our teachers to learn new things as technology constantly evolves.

We coach others in how to make lessons more effective, more engaging, more relevant. We model quality instruction that integrates technology when invited to co-teach in the classroom.

We manage software programs like Seesaw and customize hardware like iPads so students can use tools that provide opportunities for creativity, communication and collaboration.

We connect with others digitally and take initiative for our own learning so we can help teachers and administrators make decisions about best tools and resources for their specific purpose at hand.

We design handbooks to make learning more efficient. We create checkout schedules for websites and customize spreadsheets from digital forms.

We explore programs to work out the kinks. We troubleshoot issues as they arise. We streamline information into manageable, bite-sized pieces and constantly communicate with our team and stakeholders.

We learn something new each day.

Our role is multi-faceted, ever-changing, and at times completely bewildering. Even we get lost in the muddle sometimes.

We may find ourselves on the sidelines of instruction, but we are always on the forefront of change.

We discover.

We create.

We do.

The power of support is in those things unseen.

We are here for you.


Setting up iPads for teacher and student use.



Saturday, September 9, 2017

Back-to-School Joy


It's been a busy week.

Ok, let's be honest. That statement above is probably the greatest understatement any educator has ever spoken about the first week of school. Busy? No. Busy doesn't even begin to touch on the accelerated pace all families face when school begins. I'm sure many people would nod in agreement that back-to-school week is like no other.

Despite the frantic transition from summer to school mindset, I love this time of year. As an educator, it's a time of unmarked potential - new students, new teachers, new opportunities to engage, enrich, and empower. There's an unmistakable energy in the air that reminds us of our purpose and why we are called to this profession.

There is joy in returning back to school.

The first day of school marks a milestone moment for many. Scroll through your Facebook feed and you will see countless photos of students standing on their front porches, leaning beside mailboxes, holding signs and waiting for buses. There are smiles on children's faces (well, most at least), as their parents pose and position them for the photo opp that will be shared on social media for all to see.

Back to school photos are tradition.

For the past thirteen years I have taken these photos, first with one child, then two, then three. They stand beside our mailbox, their growth marked by their height against the box.

They always have a backpack.

They always stand there awkwardly.

They always roll their eyes as I take too many photos trying to capture the best one.

This year I had one less photo to take.

As many of you know, my daughter began new adventures as a college student living away from home. Her first day of school started earlier than ours and it was the first time in thirteen years that I wasn't a part of her day.

I didn't help her organize her school supplies.

I didn't help her pack her lunch.

I didn't even get to capture that once-a-year moment of her standing beside the mailbox.

Then she sent me this:


There she is, my sweet college freshman, kneeling beside her mailbox on the very first day of school.

She remembered our tradition.

She remembered to take a photo.

She remembered me.

My heart was filled with joy!



Smiles.

Backpacks.

First day of school of pictures.

These are the traditions that last a lifetime.


As I sent my boys to school to start their 8th and 3rd grade years, I couldn't wait to greet our students, too. With smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts, we greeted each and every child as they got off the bus with backpacks and lunchboxes in hand.

Waiting with our Assistant Principal, Mr. Davis, for the buses to unload.

This is back-to-school joy!

What traditions do you enjoy the first week of school? What brings you joy this time of year? How can we keep the smiles coming each day for our students and children? Comment below and share your thoughts! I would love to know how you find joy in the journey, too!




Monday, September 4, 2017

Four Months


Today marks four months on the calendar.

Four months of silence.

Four months of "after."

Four months of missing my mom.

I'm reminded of her often, especially when I notice something unexpected. Since she passed away in May, I have become more attuned to those moments, pausing to soak them in and smile, gentle reminders that I'm not alone.

Today there was a flutter of activity outside our back window. Three different birds chose to perch on the railing of our deck while several hummingbirds fluttered near the feeder, reminding me that it needed a refill. Two woodpeckers climbed around a tree, their bright red heads bobbing back and forth as they pecked at the bark on the side.

It was a peaceful morning, no sadness, no regret, just a calm understanding that today was four months after her passing.

A little later, I was talking about her final week as I poured some cereal in a bowl. My eyes were drawn to the biggest bran flake I had ever seen when I suddenly realized it was another God-wink to me from my mom: the bran flake was shaped like a heart.


Sometimes we just need a little reminder that we are loved. As always, it was perfect timing. How can you show someone you care today? 

Life is short. Share kindness and love each chance you get. You really can transform someone else's day!




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Create and Collaborate


As many of you know, I am in the process of transforming the traditional laptop lab in our elementary school into an Innovation Lab. While this may seem like a simple task of just moving furniture and buying supplies, it is actually a complex, thought-out process that has been swirling in my mind for years. Like a painter who mixes colors on a palette to get just the right shade of blue, I've been gathering insights and ideas from countless students, teachers, and parents of what this transformation could become.

Now is the time to make those dreams come true.

Through the month of September, I will guide you around the various aspects of our Innovation Lab, spotlighting Innovation Stations, creative collaboration, and think-outside-the-box opportunities.  It's my hope that you, too, might be inspired to view learning from a different perspective, to embrace the unknown, to join us in this journey of innovation.

I do have a confession to share right off the bat:

This project is a huge step outside my comfort zone.

In my twenty years as an educator, I have spent half that time as a technologist. Which means, quite simply, my duties have been focused on instructional design not classroom decor. I am not a "pinterest-worthy" decorator. In fact, interior design is probably one of my greatest weaknesses (to the chagrin of many family members.) Creating bulletin boards is not my area of expertise and my eye for color and style is a bit lacking. While these may seem like trite issues to ponder when redesigning a learning space, they are huge challenges for me.

So I turned to Twitter for inspiration.

Scrolling though my home page, I discovered a fantastic artistic display created by another teacher: a collaborative coloring board!


I stared at that photo, mesmerized by the patterns, the flow of lines and shapes mingling together, the potential for collaborative ownership sparking my mind. Wouldn't it be great to have a board like this displayed in our Innovation Lab?

I went to the store and bought a few supplies. I didn't need much, just a tri-fold display board, a pencil and a black Sharpie pen. I found a ruler in one of my children's backpacks, spread the board out on my piano room floor, then picked up my pencil to draw.

Friends, let me tell you... this drawing from scratch business is no simple task!

I have never considered myself to be an artist. While I don't critique my drawing ability aloud to others, it's not a skill I would list as a strength. You would think something like this would be easy; after all, you're just drawing little shapes and lines, right?

I stared at that white board for a very long time, completely overwhelmed, not knowing where to start.

It made me think of my students, when I hand them a piece of blank paper and say, "Just draw!" or "Just write!" The vast emptiness paralyzes the hand and stifles the creativity for some. How would I guide my students to overcome this feeling? To give them a jump-start? To show them that anything they put on the paper is better than nothing at all?

Start small.

Baby steps.

Bite one piece, not the whole pie.

I followed my own advice. I created a title for the center of the board. I drew straight lines around the word to form a rectangle, then used my ruler to connect the vertex of the shape to the vertex of the board. (I threw in that vocabulary word to impress my math friends reading this post, lol.)

Then I started to draw and design.




It took a very long time to draw each small shape, then create flowing lines and patterns around the objects. I quickly realized that this project might take weeks, possibly months, as my perfectionist spirit wanted the board to be "just right."

But I kept at it. A few minutes here, an hour there, I continued to draw.

Design.

Outline.

Erase.

Step by step, piece by piece, my coloring board came to life with hidden animals, swirling stems and flowers blooming in the sun. I discovered that the more I drew, the easier it became, and I began to understand how artists find such joy in creation. I borrowed a coloring book from my daughter to guide me in creating images, glancing from paper to cardboard as my pencil continued to glide from shape to shape.





With a few final strokes of my pen, the board design was done!


During teacher work week, I set out the board and some markers outside our Innovation Lab with an open invitation to color. It was a delight to see so many teachers "take a break to create."




I even saw our Assistant Principal add to our display board late one afternoon.


During Open House, I moved our coloring board to the front office lobby where students and parents joined in the fun of collaborative creation.




Oh the joy!

Our poster is still a work-in-progress, much like our Innovation Lab, but it's inspiring to see how the collective creativity of many can transform a black-and-white board into a masterpiece. 

Amazing creations take time to complete. Check back soon to see our finished poster and learn more about our Innovation Lab!