education, mom

College Bound

The car was packed so tightly even a sardine would feel cramped. From floor to ceiling there were boxes. Labeled trash bags. Plastic crates and zip ties. One tennis racket, eight pair of shoes and a newly purchased umbrella for the rainy days to come.





And one little girl heading off to college.



Her brothers wrapped their arms around her one last time, the youngest one shouting, “Huggy!” It was a spontaneous moment of joy as they embraced and smiled for the camera.

They say, “Life passes in the blink of an eye.” Oh, my friends, how true. I used to roll my eyes whenever my mom would warn me about the inevitable passage of time. How could I possibly envision this day when my sleep deprived body could barely stay awake to change a newborn’s diaper or when my teething toddler cried for hours at a time? And what about all those nights where she would end up sleeping in my bed, her small body quick to fall asleep against the warmth of mine while I lie still listening to the sound of her breath?

Or how about all those swim lessons where she would sit on the side of the pool, only dangling the tips of her toes in the water as she stubbornly refused to get in? (She did learn how to swim, eventually.) Somehow, in the blink of an eye, she grew up. Became a teenager. Survived braces. Went to prom and graduated high school.

My little girl is 18. 

Heading to college. 

And I’m just along for the ride.

Saturday was surreal. As we drove to Christopher Newport University we took selfies in the car. Talked about trivial things. Joked about how much fun college life would be. She sat in the back, a small smile on her face as she listened to her music and stared through the window, the tree-lined interstate blurred by the flow of traffic.

Today was the biggest milestone moment of my daughter’s entire life.

Nothing will ever be the same.

The drop-off was smooth and efficient as dozens of upperclassmen met us at our car, unpacked all her belongings and took them to her room. Everyone was smiling. Upbeat. Joyful. You could see the student volunteers were happy to be back to the place they now call home.

We didn’t have to lift a finger. 

They did all the work for us.



We grabbed a quick bite to eat then began unpacking and setting up her room. The most difficult part was adjusting the height of the beds as the furniture was packed so tight in the room there was nowhere to move. Thankfully the dads were with us, so they pulled out their tools and used hammers and socket wrenches to get the frames adjusted. Then it was time for the moms to step in and help make the beds while the girls unpacked and put their things away.



Later in the day, Rich worked on getting the cable set up for the TV and syncing the printer with the girls’ laptops while we hung framed photos and other decorations around the room. It was an all-day work session for the parents, but I didn’t mind one bit.

My daughter wanted me there.

I was needed.

It was my last chance to be a full-time mom, helping my daughter settle in.

Many people write letters to their children when they head to college, leaving them in sealed envelopes somewhere in their child’s dorm room. I didn’t want to leave a sappy letter or card that might make her feel worse reading it and I most certainly didn’t want her to pine for her family back home. Instead, I chose to jot down a few reminders and pieces of advice on post-it notes as we were driving to the school, then I hid them all around her room as I helped her unpack.




As the sun began to set and the last frame was hung, it was time to clear the packing materials, take some final photos, and say our farewells.




She walked with us to our car. Our parting was brief – a hug that was a little longer, a little tighter followed by, “This isn’t goodbye, but see you soon!”
Then she walked away towards her dorm and we sat there a few minutes more, caught in the wonder of it all.
There were no tears.
No sadness.
Only the reminder that no matter where she goes, she will always be our little girl.


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Last night I participated in an engaging Twitter #tlap chat focused on professional development (PD) for teachers. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as my position as a technology integrator is entwined with PD on a daily basis. Every time I collaborate with another teacher, I am learning. Every lesson I implement with a class, I am being observed. My job is a constant mixing of learning, teaching; failure, success.

With the advent of online learning, the ability to share ideas virtually has taken off at rocket speed. We are no longer confined to four walls and a door to learn new things. In Innovator’s MindsetGeorge Couros sums it up perfectly when he states, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.”

It’s true. We don’t need to wait for August PD to learn.

This summer our district launched several online professional development opportunities for teachers. Some offerings are self-paced with a start and end date only; others are teacher-paced where instructors guide participants through weekly modules. Each course provides an opportunity for teachers to learn about tools and platforms virtually, in their own time and space, and all have been favorably received by teachers.

I wanted to provide a course that took online learning a step further, making it personalized for teacher interests. Guided by resources and insights from Jarod BormannJason BretzmannKenny Bosch, and Barbara Bray as well as Twitter chats like #personalizedPD#patioPD and #tlap, I decided to jump in and make my own.

My online course is titled PD4me and guides teachers in the process of using social media platforms to learn about things they want to learn in ways that fit them best. It’s nine weeks of personalized learning with sharing and reflection checkpoints scattered along the path. The course is hosted on Google Sites and uses several Google products such as Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Forms. We learn about three platforms (Pinterest, Twitter, and Voxer) and dive into each, discovering how to communicate, collaborate, and become self-directed, connected educators. We have unique titles for the modules such as Pin from your DenTweet from Your Seat, and Vox from Your Box to emphasize learning from any location. We even provide extension tasks for those participants who may already use the platforms successfully, so they aren’t bored with account setup.

As I engaged in the Twitter chat last night, I briefly mentioned my PD4me course and received dozens of inquiries about how it works. It suddenly occurred to me that I need to get better about sharing out the things I do as a technology integrator! We are better together!

The course itself is only available to teachers in our district; however, the resources below should give you an idea of the various things we do in each module if you want to create your own. We are finishing up Module 9 this week, just in time for teachers to return to the classroom and put their new learning into motion!

PD4me Resource Links

I would love to know your thoughts about mixing personalized learning with online courses. If you are doing something similar in your district, comment below so I can learn from you, too! You can always reach out to me on Twitter @tamaraletter if you have additional questions about the course. I’m looking forward to all the different ways we can personalize learning this year for teachers AND students!


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education, mom

Eight Months Late


I have a confession to share.

This post is eight months late.

We are two-thirds through 2017 and I’m just now writing about my New Year’s Resolutions. Want to hear the best irony of all?

My #oneword for 2017 is resilience.

Go ahead. Laugh. It’s OK! It really is funny! Eight months after choosing the word that would be my focus for the year, I’m finally finishing my post.

Even I am laughing now. Oh, the irony!


In 2014, I started connecting with others on Twitter and engaging with a global network of educators. As 2014 rolled into 2015, I was inspired by Tony Borash to write three things on a post-it note to focus on for the new year and make the list public for accountability. I took a risk by sharing my goals on social media. Unfortunately, I lost the post-it note but kept plugging away just the same.

As 2015 came to a close I was off to a decent start with my writing and several people in my PLN encouraged me to reflect on my goals to guide me into goal-setting for the next year. I will forever be grateful to Greg ArmamentosCraig Vroom and Jennifer Hogan for connecting me with #compelledtribe which provided accountability for my writing reflections.

In December 2015, I heard Dean Shareski present about Joy in the Classroom at the VSTE Conference and instantly knew that joy would be my #oneword goal for 2016. My mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a few months prior and my mother-in-law had just been accepted into hospice. I knew I needed to keep a joyful mindset to get through the challenges ahead.

2016 was an incredible year. I spent time making memories with my mom. I embraced my love for kindness by writing a grant proposal for Kindness Passion Projects and celebrated with jubilation when it was fully funded. I transformed a corner of our school’s laptop lab into a Tiny Tech Cafe for collaboration. I met friends for dinner and played board games with my children. I tried to bring joy to other people’s lives as well as I continued blogging about random acts of kindness.

And even though there were times of grief and challenges (my mother-in-law passed away in March 2016), joy was found in even the smallest, quietest moments.

Then came the mountain that would spill into 2017. The only word that kept swirling in my mind as we packed away the Christmas decorations and blew our party horns for the new year was resilience.

It would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This has been a year of undeniable turbulence. On a personal level, we have endured heartache after heartache as we watched my mom fight her cancer battle to the very end, passing away in May, shortly after my Uncle Garland was placed in hospice care. Now Uncle Garland is gone and we are once again crashing on the shore of grief.

Our local community has grieved their own losses: parents burying children; wives becoming widows.  My social media feeds are overflowing daily with negativity, despair, despondency. I am watching my world change before my eyes and at times I feel like everything is beyond my control.

Now global attention is pulled to Charlottesville, just an hour from my home. I am paralyzed by the horror of the world in which I live.

Then I am reminded about my #oneword for 2017: resilience.

I’ve learned a few things about resilience these past eight months. I’ve learned that strength requires weakness. Confidence requires insecurity. Resilience requires silence.

Paradoxes. Mind shifts of opposite truths shared by a common thread: Improvement.

Usually I’m one who is always willing to share my thoughts. I jump in with two feet and figure things out as I go. This year, however, it’s been different. The silence has swirled around me; the crashing waves of fear, insecurity, doubt, and heartache mute for the world to hear. How does one recover from events that push you down? How can you rise above.

Resilience requires silence.

Resilience takes time.







Resilience is proof that nothing will keep you down.

As I tug on the knotted rope that reaches the top of each hill, I am reminded that resilience requires work. Focus. Commitment. Determination. An unwavering belief that things will turn out OK.

In one week my world shifts again. Monday we will celebrate the life of my Uncle Garland while saying goodbye for the last time. A few days later, I will pack my car with my oldest child’s belongings as we drive her to college, one last hug and kiss before she spreads her wings to fly. Then I will shake the sand from my toes and trade my flip-flops for heels as I head back to work for my 21st year in education.

Change is inevitable.

Resilience is what keeps us going.

Instead of focusing on things that bring me down, I want to shine the light on rising up. I want to model this for my children, my students, my co-workers, my friends. I want them to see that there is always hope in the darkness, but we have to share the light for others to see.

Eight months late might just be right on time.


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education, kindness, mom

Be the Change

One of the reasons I love connecting with other people on Twitter and Facebook are the inspiring messages they share. This morning I was delighted to read a TBT post from Four O’Clock Faculty, reminding us that small moments matter.

I am a keeper of small moments. 

I celebrate everything!

As many of you know, my oldest child is heading to college in a few weeks. She is the first grandchild of my mom and dad to begin such an endeavor; it’s a game-changer for my entire family. My daughter is a self-professed introvert and very private, so you can imagine the levels of angst that accompany such a milestone event. One of her greatest worries is having to share a room with a stranger.

Thankfully, a close friend of hers also received acceptance to the same university and Leadership Program, so the girls quickly agreed to be roommates. They each requested the other when completing acceptance paperwork and assumed they were good to go for the first year of school. They picked a color theme for their room, purchased coordinating comforters, and started to make plans with furniture arrangements and who would bring what the first week.

We always hope for smooth transitions, but sometimes we encounter rough seas.

My daughter’s university creates fall schedules for freshmen students based on survey questions answered through their website. During a week-long campus orientation in June, she received her schedule and discovered a required class for her leadership program was missing. She was also placed in a different Learning Community than her requested roommate, thus making it impossible to be paired with her for the upcoming school year.

Talk about angst! Not the way we wanted to start off a life-changing experience!

We were directed to Student Services where we met Eric Sutton. We shared our concerns and he was quick to agree that changes should be made and he could help. His smile reassured us that everything would be OK.

It wasn’t a quick fix.

My daughter had to drop a class to add the Leadership class. Her friend had to change multiple classes to get into the same Learning Community. They both had to appear in person to verbally agree that this is what they wanted to do to be roommates.

It took time. 




Eric offered several options for course substitutions and continued to work with my daughter’s friend throughout the summer until she was satisfied with her schedule. His commitment to excellence and his friendly communication was the epitome of quality customer service with a personal touch.

We felt like he really cared about our children.

Yesterday the university released roommate selections and we discovered the girls were paired together as roommates. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief! No more angst about who would be living in the same room for a year and no need to return dorm decor!

I immediately composed a letter to the university president, commending Eric’s work ethic for going above and beyond to help us with our dilemma. I also made a copy to send to Eric. Maybe he can add this to his own “Smile File” to remind him that his work is meaningful and small moments matter.

We need to recognize the small moments.

We need to act on those whispers on our heart.

We need to say “thank you” and “please” and show our appreciation for others.

We need to be the change we want to see in the world.




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