Word Jam

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My best friend’s husband excitedly bounded up the stairs from the basement to present us with his latest discovery: leftover wild Maine blueberry preserves that they had made the year before.  My eyes feasted upon them first before my tongue even felt anything to taste.  The smooth, dark indigo substance paired well with the freshly made strawberry rhubarb compote that was already on my breakfast biscuit.  I took a bite and it was heaven. The differing levels of sweet and tart melded together in tasty layers.

My thoughts, of late, have been such a mixture.  I have wanted to say one thing, but then found myself stuck.  Then another wave of inspiration hit, but then another creative roadblock occurred.  So many layers of interesting things have happened in my life and the world outside that it feels a little insufficient to present just one.  It reminded me much of what observed my students felt whenever we discussed political topics, or themes in literature, or even when they were challenged to put their thoughts into written form through our poety unit.  Teenagers are good at that.  Teenagers are good at having so much to say that it gets jumbled up and they don’t know exactly how or where or when to say it.  Other times, they have such clarity that many adults still lack.  There is, though, like the mixture of blueberry preserves and strawberry rhubarb compote, a beauty in the mess and the layers of flavors.

What’s wrong with being white?  I asked myself this and began sculpting a response, from the point of view of an educator of diverse students, to the story of Rachel Dolezal who for years had been leading people to believe that she was a black woman.  Her desire to partake in the African-American experience is perplexing yet admirable.  Her deception through all of it sullied the perception of her possibly meaning well.  I mean, there are many white people who have “championed the cause” of Civil Rights thorughout the ages.  Why did she feel she had to deny her actual ethnicity to support another?  Did it help?  Did it hurt?

On the other end of the week, and social spectrum, came the mass killings in Charleston.  I found this reminiscent of the Charlie Hebdo killings earlier this year as well as shootings at Columbine, Newton, and countless hate crimes and killings that have ravaged our country, our communities, and our entire planet.  For what reason do we allow the cultivation of such destructive ideas and thoughts?  Why is it ever thought to be okay to take the life of another especially if they have not threatened the lives of others?  More importantly, at what point, and with what event will all of our politicians stop politicizing the issue.  No, gun control is not the answer.  No, loosening gun restrictions is also not the answer.  We are the answer.  The problem is that not enough of us seem to really be asking the true question…then again, I don’t know what that question or series of questions should be.

At this point in life I am not a parent, so I think about how I would address these topics with my students.  They are complex issues that stem from a lack of logic, compassion, and love.  I would, address them as I would any other controversial topic, in an open forum discussion.  I would ask my students questions.  I would have them try to see things from the points of view of others.  I would have them create and ask questions of their own.  More importantly, I would challenge them to see how the would work to make this world a safer, loving, and more appreciative place.  I would ask them to open the Ball jars of their brains and release the sweet brilliance of their words.  I would want for them to do as I am reminding myself to do.  “Don’t keep each word within you,” is what I have been telling myself.  “Spread them out, like a homemade jam atop a freshly-made biscuit.”

On Feeling Restlessness

As a more relaxed Type A personality, I enjoy having a plan.  I thrive in my plans.  Each year I draft a detailed Classroom Management Plan outlining exactly how I want my classroom to run, the rules, the rewards, etc.  Sometimes I follow the plan.  Other times I do not.  That plan always exists in some varying degree (even if it is a tweaked version of one from a previous year).

Right now I am on summer vacation for two straight months. After spending almost a week at the beach, I am now in retiree country (a.k.a. Central Florida) and I’m feeling restless.

Why?

This summer I have been trying something new.  While I usually immerse myself in Professional Development offerings (as an attendee or facilitator), this year I have opted to travel.  This has been a long time coming and certainly well-deserved.  The time I am spending in Florida is only the first leg of essentially a three-leg U.S. tour.  Of course, I planned a lot of it…and then I didn’t.

Long before my trip I had been working on infusing more mindfulness within my life.  As an educator, I am naturally quite reflective, but I wanted to take the time to reflect and sit still within my thoughts about my being me.  The whole me.  The me beyond the classroom.

My first public school
Caribbean Elementary School: Miami, FL

Great things, opportunities, and stories have arisen from me letting go of the specific details of this trip.  I was able to stay a couple more days in Miami, visit my childhood home, my elementary school, have lunch with my favorite elementary school teacher, have dinner with my surrogate mom and dad (plus sister and nephew who promptly told me that he loved me), and meet up with a wonderful college pal that I hadn’t seen in almost a decade.  It was absolutely fantastic.

Mrs. J. and Me
My first/third grade teacher and me

Right now I am sitting on a couch in my grandparents’ living room, watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals and am coming off the peak of a feeling of restlessness.  In thinking about it, I suppose it stems from a sense of excitement, uncertainty, and wanting to predict/plan the future.  I am really excited about some amazing things happening in my professional life, other wonderful opportunities are making their way to me as well, and I’m traveling to places I have never been (or haven’t seen in years) this summer.  With all of these things, I am having to remind myself that yes, they are all moving in a great direction and that I just need to trust the process of it all.

I remember the first time I constructed a lesson where the students were in control. We were doing a jigsaw of notes, nothing huge, and the students took turns presenting their findings.  It was challenging to let them run the show, but doing so yielded the best results.  The students said thereafter that it was their favorite lesson.  If I hadn’t done that almost seven years ago, I know I would not have had the courage to do Genius Hour not once, but twice this past year.  My students were the designers and facilitators of their own learning for weeks on end and the results (well, a good 90% of them) were superb.  All I had to do was let go of the reins and watch the magic unfold.

So here I am in my grandparents’ living room watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals feeling less restless.  I guess I have to remember that there is much more to be gained from letting go of the reins of life in times like these than to try to plan every moment in an attempt to predict the future.

Trust the Process and Quit Feeling Restless
My personal mantra for years, which has been popping up a lot lately.

Summertime Social Media

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Plenty of educators use social media on a regular basis and for a variety of reasons.  It can be helpful for:

  • keeping in contact with parents and students,
  • networking with other educators, and for
  • connecting with local, national, and international organizations.

What many fail to recognize is that social media can be a wonderful tool for taking your teaching beyond the walls of your classroom.  Personally, I enjoy using it for keeping my students engaged on platforms they already frequent.

So how do I plan to use social media during the summer?

While my students are in the process of transitioning from middle to high school, I plan to keep in touch with them through my #56DayVacay almost-daily blogging where I plan to chronicle my summer travels.  Beyond keeping my students up-to-date on my summer, I hope to connect with other like-minded educators and organizations.

I started playing around with this idea back in March when I ventured to Houston, Texas to the annual ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Conference for three school days.  It was such an amazing experience, however I am not a fan of missing school at all.  So I thought long and hard.  How could I maintain some interactivity with my students in an educational manner so that they were not just swimming in a sea of sub plans in my absence?  I decided to put my teacher Twitter and teacher Instagram accounts to use.

Using the hashtag #WillipediaINHouston, I kept track of photos I took while in Texas.  I then took it a step further.  I asked my students through Instagram and Twitter to offer suggestions of what I should photograph.  They sent me on a scavenger hunt around Houston and for their participation, I offered them extra credit.  What ended up happening was that my students got to experience Houston along with me, but with a silly twist.  I found images of shoes for P.W., a black hole for E.C., and a picture of my principal taking a selfie for a few different students (selfies were the top requests, interestingly enough).  The student -moderated scavenger hunt gave them the opportunity to really engage with me and each other in a creative, real-world relevant manner even though I was away.

Based upon the success of this scavenger hunt, I did it again in May when I left to attend my cousin’s wedding in Jamaica.  Knowing fully well that I would not be inclined to take numerous photos while relaxing at the beach and attending to bridesmaid duties, I changed my tactics.

This time, I announced that I would offer extra credit to those who successfully answered three clues.  Clue #1 asked the students to figure out to what city and country I had traveled.  Clue #2 asked the students to identify for what reason I was traveling.  Finally, clue #3 asked the students to do a little research to identify at what resort I stayed.  It was like a modern-day take on “Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego?”

While not as student-involved as the previous campaign, I did notice that this contest, hosted mainly through my blog, attracted a different group of students.  These students shared their answers in the comments section of each clue.

So how will I use this in the future?

As I mentioned, the summer break is upon us and boy am I excited! (Not that I don’t enjoy the school year, which I do very much.)  This summer I will keep track of my trips using the hashtags #56DayVacay and #WillipediaTravels.  While not connected to any specific task for extra credit, whatever student interaction that arises from this campaign will be a great way to illustrate to next year’s students (and their parents) how social media can be an educational tool as well.  After all, in my current graduate studies, I have been learning about the importance of showing students how to appropriately and effectively use digital resources.  This, paired with (hopefully) more community involvement through social media next year, will continue to bring my school (and its students/teachers/parents) farther into the 21st Century.

Should you opt to do the same with your educational social media accounts let me know how it goes.  I can recommend the following tips:

  1. First, remember to be clear about your focus and goals with your campaign.
  2. Secondly, be sure to drum up some excitement with your classroom community.  This includes students, their parents, and other educators in your building.
  3. Third, keep an open dialogue.  Be sure to respond to to questions and comments.  There’s a reason why it’s called social media after all.
  4. Get creative.  Include interesting factoids, bits of history, or trivia about your destination in your image caption.  Ask your students to solve a riddle.  If you find an interesting car in once city, invite your students to find an interesting car back home and tag you in the picture.  Find an image that relates to a piece of literature that you and your students have read in class.  There is no limit to what you can do to make social media an educational experience.
  5. Lastly, remember to have fun!  Enjoy the process.  Take fun pictures and continue to show your more human side but don’t be tempted to over-share.  This should go without saying, but remember, this is your professional account and represents that aspect of yourself.  When interacting with minors (or really, any student), keep things platonic, respectful, and age-appropriate.  Sometimes students may opt to be a little too friendly or overly-conversational and that’s to be expected.  Just be sure to remember that as an educator, your interactions online are public.  Make sure they work in your favor and not against your ability to maintain your livelihood.

Well, it is time for me to double-check that I have everything I need before I hit the road.

Let the educational adventures continue!

-Ms. Willipedia

The 56-Day Vacay

Leaving on a Jet Plane!

With the end of each school year, teachers everywhere are faced with important and potentially life-changing decisions such as:

  • What will I do this summer?
  • Should I take on a summer job
  • Should I travel?
  • Should I attend a conference (or two, or three)?
  • Should I start planning for the next school year?
  • Is there really anything wrong with doing absolutely nothing for almost fifty days?

Okay, so I am exaggerating a little bit.  We do have the freedom in having such a break to pursue our personal interests or catch up on our Netflix guilty pleasures.

Now, I have just completed my seventh year of teaching.  In the past, I have gone to visit family, hung out with friends, enjoyed my favorite summer sports of golf and tennis, and attended grad school.  I realized about a year and a half ago that I wanted a little more.  I wanted more of a sense of adventure.  I wanted to spend my summer break traveling.

This year, I am making that plan a reality.

With friends in a variety of places around this great nation, I booked my airplane tickets, and am excited about the adventures to come.  Follow me as I traipse around the country on what I am affectionately calling the “Ms. Willipedia U.S. Tour 2015” through the hashtags #56DayVacay and #WillipediaTravels on Instagram and Twitter.  I have challenged myself to post at least one picture daily and to log my longer-form observations and anecdotes here.  With only two days left of post-planning (the days after the kids leave that we teachers still have to work), I have been packing my bag in preparation for my first trip destination: Miami!

Stay tuned!  This summer is shaping up to be one full of many fantastic adventures.

See you on “the ‘gram” or “the Twitters”!

-Ms. Willipedia

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