education, family, mom, reflection, writing

For the Love of Reading

“What kind of books do you like to read?”

I have to laugh when I hear someone ask this question, especially to children. Many will answer with a series or author name; a few will respond with a genre. Some will stare blankly with a shrug of their shoulders indicating disinterest in the question altogether. Even in elementary school, students have begun to label themselves by reading ability or interest. Have you ever heard one of these responses?

“I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not a good reader.”

“Reading is boring.”

My earliest memories of books revolve around my mom who was an avid reader. While we never had a formal bookshelf in our home, she would have stacks of books in her closet, under the coffee table, and in various bags in our spare bedroom. I can still see her now, curled up in a corner of the couch, covered in a blanket, hardback book opened with crisp, new pages waiting to be turned.

My mom’s passion for reading trickled down to me in small and meaningful ways. Unfortunately, my love for reading was a late discovery, as I was a product of the Red Bird, Blue Bird, Black Bird grouping of a decades-old educational system that judged my reading ability by lower-level comprehension questions and oral fluency peer comparison. According to my report card, I was an average reader. According to my passion, I was a skilled and reflective orator, retelling and correlating storylines to life lessons, emphasizing inspirational character traits with each story shared.

Since that time, I have easily read hundreds of books in a variety of genres that shift depending on my own life stages. No one requires me to take a test to prove my learning and I am freed from narrow constraints that dictate my reading selection.

I can read any book, at any time, without judgment or expectation.

I am a life-long reader.

From one of my first and favorite novels, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, to the humorous and sometimes horrific insights of Iggie’s House and Blubber by Judy Blume, my early teen years found comfort in learning about people’s experiences: their highs and lows, successes and failures.

In high school, I discovered biblical inspirations, marking my favorite quotes with colorful highlighters that occasionally bled through the other page. Handwritten notes with personal references in the margins reminded me that I am wonderfully made and bound for greatness. I was drawn to personal narratives shared in Daily Guideposts, providing inspiration 365 days of the year. Many of those verses and stories still come to mind today when I face trials and tribulations of living in an imperfect world.

In college, I bought a kit to build my own two-leveled bookshelf. It was made of cheap particle board and a bit wobbly, but it was mine. I quickly filled it with Shel Silverstein poetry books like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic and treasured young adult novels like Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia. I vowed to never watch a movie until I had read the book first.

In my twenties, I found great escape in the twisted tales spun by Stephen King and Dean Koontz, developing empathy for characters like Christopher Snow in Fear Nothing. Then my interests took a complete turnaround when I transitioned to motherhood, with a focus on baby board books like Guess How Much I Love You capturing the unexplainable love I had for the newborn baby rocking asleep in my arms.

I read to my child.

For my child.

With my child.

As I had more children, I made sure each had a bookshelf in their bedroom. The first was built by my husband, a simple 2′ x 4′ storage space crafted from pine and custom-sized to fit baby books, which was passed along to each child as they arrived. When a child outgrew the baby bookshelf, another one would appear in their room, magically filled with early reader books, graphic novels, and other books I had found at yard sales or Goodwill.

While there may not have been money to purchase name-brand shoes or the newest game console, there was always money available for books. From Junie B. Jones lamenting her first grade woes to Jack and Annie sharing their treehouse adventures, I tried my best to pass along my mother’s love for reading to her grandchildren.

Years later, when that same mother who sparked my love for reading faced her greatest battle of Stage 4 lung cancer (at the same time my mother-in-law was battling Stage 4 colon cancer), I turned to books like Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant to guide me through my loss and grief. On the day after my mother’s death, I received a package on my doorstep: Driving Miss Norma, the book my mom had pre-ordered for me as a Christmas gift six months before.

Even after her death, my mom was encouraging me to keep reading.

I am now in a season of enriching my educational practice with books like Teach Like a Pirate, Blogging for EducatorsBe Real, Make Learning Magical, Lead Like a Pirate, The Path to Serendipity, Lead with Culture, Professionally Driven and Social LEADia (and so many more – this paragraph could be a blog post in and of itself!) I am discovering the joys of reflective practice and learning from educators who stretch my thinking with their encouraging words.

I can also hear a new whisper on my heart:

“Write and share.”

In the journey from reader to writer, I see the interconnectedness of both, how words consumed and internalized are woven together into expressions and examples bursting forth to be shared. I have learned from writers before me how to scoop up fragments and phrases and mold them into visual experiences that unfold inside a reader’s mind.

To write well, you must be well read.

I am still perfecting my craft as a writer as I share blog posts like this, sparked by writing groups like #CompelledTribe who challenge me each month to keep writing, keep sharing, keep developing.

This time next year I will be an author myself with others holding my book to read. The thought is nearly incomprehensible. I am humbled to join the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. crew as an honorary pirate preparing for her maiden voyage. I can almost see in my mind’s eye my mom sitting on her sofa, wrapped in a blanket, reading my book A Passion for Kindness, her eyes brimming with tears of joy.

It’s a journey that will soon come full circle.

In celebration of #NationalBookMonth this October, I challenge you to share your experiences with books that have made an impact on your life. You may be surprised to discover that your words of reflection may inspire someone to add a new book to their collection! If you share a post, tag me, too – your words inspire me as well!


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family, kindness, reflection, writing

The Rocks

Months ago my eight-year-old son found a Kindness rock hidden among the bushes at my school when we made a quick visit to play on the playground. “Look, Mommy!” he squealed, his voice filled with the magical wonder of innocence. “This rock is extra-special! We should keep it!” It was painted bright green with blue words across the top. The message contained three words I needed to hear right in that moment:

Seek the treasure.

I placed the rock in the console of my car so I could see it each day, a visual reminder that each and every day holds potential for moments to be treasured. I simply had to shift my perspective to see it materialize before me.

That weekend at church, our pastor gave a sermon about the power of a rock. “If David could slay a giant with one small object, what power do YOU have to overcome the giants in your life?” That question dove deep in my soul and shook me a bit as I tried to wrap my brain around the possibility that I, too, might be stronger than I ever imagined. As we left the service, we were given a large, black rock as a reminder that we could do great things. I placed the “David Rock” as I called it in the same compartment of my car console that contained my treasure rock from days before.

As winter turned to spring, and spring slid into summer, I battled some hefty giants. I was selected Teacher of the Year for my school, spent my Spring Break writing essay after essay, only to flounder in my district interview presentation with one technology glitch after another. I relived sorrow and heartache as the one year anniversary of my mother’s death approached then passed, the weight lasting longer than the date on the calendar page. A few weeks before the end of the school year I was informed that I would now be serving two schools after a decade of only serving one.

I gave my first out-of-district Keynote presentation in June, overcoming the constant battle of perfection and fear of failure. I then transitioned from a 10-month teacher contract to an 11-month technology contract requiring me to sacrifice many precious days of summer break with my children.

But perhaps the greatest challenge I faced during this time was pouring my heart onto the page as I wrote paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter, my manifesto about kindness and its impact on my life.

I am growing my wings from writer to author.

There were days I sat at my computer when the thoughts were jumbled in my mind like a 500-piece puzzle still wrapped in the box. There were other days when the words tumbled out like a waterfall, rushing so quickly I could barely contain the flow.

I cried out in frustration for the words that wouldn’t come; I went through a box of tissues for the words that eventually did.

For six straight months I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Edited.

Revised.

Wrote again.

I doubted my ability to share my story, then sat back in wonder when the puzzle pieces came together, the scrambled shades of blue finally blending together across the horizon. I sacrificed time, energy, and quite a bit of sleep, but what I gained in the process was so much more.

By writing my story, I discovered who I am meant to be.

I submitted the first draft of my book about kindness and now the wheels are in motion.

Early 2019.

It’s really going to happen! I am going to be an author and, perhaps, you will read my story. That is such an exciting, but overwhelming, reality to come! I am overjoyed; I am terrified. Short of childbirth, this is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

For now, I keep moving forward. Keep working towards the goal.

And each day I see the rocks in my console to remind me of my purpose, their shine and shimmer dulled by the sun, but still vibrant in their meaning.

Seek the treasure.

Overcome the giants.

Excellent advice indeed.

If you would like to be the first to know about updates of my book release, join our Passion for Kindness Facebook group or subscribe below. It’s going to be quite a journey for the next six months – I would love to share it with you!

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reflection, writing

Forced Update

It was inevitable.
I pushed “later” every time the pop-up appeared.
No. No. No.
Not now. 
 
Later. 
 
Remind me tomorrow.
 
I had broken the cardinal rule of tech savviness with more than a dozen tabs open in Google Chrome, frantically working towards a deadline when the inevitable happened.
I no longer had a choice to make. 
 
The screen went dark. A white apple appeared.
Forced update.
I stared back at the screen, the small white progress bar inching slowly to the right, my writing progress halted by the same technology that allowed it to exist.
I got up and walked a lap around my downstairs, then sat back down again.
Updating.
I refilled my coffee, knowing it would grow cold before I could finish even half of it.
Updating.
I went upstairs, put in my contacts, twisted my hair up and stared at my reflection in the mirror.
Work in progress.
I saw a few new freckles across the bridge of my nose as I peered closer in the mirror, then smiled as I remembered my childhood dream of having my freckles join together so I could finally be as tan as my friends.
Forty-five years worth of freckles. Still waiting on the tan.
I returned back to my writing desk to a screen that was nearly unchanged. Delayed updates equate to more time needed.
Time.
Summer time.
Family time.
My time.
Work.
This summer, my time is all mixed in a muddle. Nearly every second of every day is accounted for interspersed with planned activities to provide a sense of balance and reduction of guilt. I’m writing, which brings me immense joy, but working through tough topics that make my heart bleed on the page.
I am discovering I’m not as invincible as I thought.
As I look around my home, I see all the things that need my attention: the carpet needs to be vacuumed, the dishes washed, the laundry sorted, the toys picked up and put away. Then I look back at the dark screen on my laptop and ask myself aloud: “Is all this even worth it?”
Yes.
Yes.
Yes.
It is worth it.
It is worth the time to tell this story. It is worth the heartache to share vulnerability. It is worth the schedule overhaul, the shift in responsibilities, the lack of sleep, lack of strength, lack of confidence to get these words to the world.
It. Is. Worth. It.
My writing journey is unlike anyone else’s and paradoxically just the same. I’m a small town girl with big city dreams and fears that rise higher than skyscrapers.
I am swimming in an ocean of change with no lifeguard on the shore. The ebb and flow of tidal waves that crush my soul and pull me under are the same waves that bring me back to the surface to catch my breath. I have to remind myself to swim with the current, not against it. I have to remember to breathe when I have the chance.
The light of my laptop is bright again, the cursor blinking for me to log in.
Update done.
 
Restart completed.
 
Back to writing again.
There are times in our lives when we need a forced update to renew and refresh. Today I chose to embrace that which I couldn’t control and find joy in the why.
I even took time to write a story about it, too.
Writing is joy.
Sharing is joy.
Today I am thankful for those moments in our lives that force us to pause and reflect.
Today I am thankful for you, taking time out of your life to read the thoughts in mine.

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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!”


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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.


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