December Goals

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(Long-overdue vacation pics coming soon!  Elizabeth gives you a preview:  “Yeah, I hike.  You see my family?  If my parents, grandpa, and aunties do it, I want in!  Wait…what’s going on with all the air hitting my face?  Why is the sun so bright?  And why is it so hot?  Is this what hiking means???  Take me back to the airport.”)

A quick reflection on my November goals:

-Creating blocks of time assigned to general categories was very helpful at work!  I stayed more on top of things that are important but easily procrastinated, like planning guided reading groups.  I found the “projects and tasks” category particularly helpful.  If I finished prepping the next day at 5:00, I picked something off my running list of projects and tasks and got to work.  It made me feel like I had extra time, once in awhile.  Well, not really extra time, but a smaller negative balance on my time, at least!

-BarNoReMo…needs to be in a summer month!  Fifty pages a day???  What was I thinking?  To be fair, I still have five days left, and it’s the long weekend for Thanksgiving, but so far I’ve nearly finished Insurgent.  That’s it.  I’ll try again another time.  Apologies to the poor suckers who agree to lend me books.

-Eat at the table?  What?  I completely forgot about that one.  Oops.  I knew three goals would be too many.

New goals for December:

Let me start by telling you where I’m at these days.  I’m feeling physically neglected – sleep, fruits and veggies, exercise – and spiritually thirsty.  I’m living one day at a time, just trying to make it through the hours and the tasks.  Sometimes that’s what is necessary, but it can’t be my whole life, week after week, month after month.  I want more than surviving another hour or day.  I need a stronger center, a stronger mind-body-spirit to endure and flourish.

I will continue maintaining my work-related habits:  following a general, loose plan for getting things done; leaving each night with materials prepared for the following day’s instruction; and working 7:30-5:30 most days.  But my two goals this month will both be things that happen between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

-My first goal is work-related, in a way.  I will bring my lunch!  This shouldn’t be that hard.  But I’ve had way too many school cafeteria, gas station, and fast food lunches in the last couple of months.  I have had maybe 8 green smoothies this entire school year so far, and I think I spent 10 straight days this month without a single bite of anything raw and living.  I feel like death warmed over.  Food makes SUCH a difference!  So for the month of December, I will try packing lunches in batches, all five lunches packed on Sunday night and ready for the week ahead.  Fresh fruit, salads, smoothies, sandwiches, soups…whatever it is, it will be better, healthier, and likely cheaper than the alternatives.

-Second goal…and much more important than any goal I have set this year so far:  Reconnect with a daily dose of quiet.  A daily spiritual practice that quenches a thirsty soul.  For me, that means getting up early, lighting a candle, reading a few verses, and a little prayer journaling.  If the one practice that most drives spiritual growth is reading your bible and thinking about it, then my thirsty soul needs more of this practice.

“THAT Kid” and the “Other Kids”

This morning I read a lovely, heartfelt, so very TRUE article responding to parents of the “other kids” in the class who are concerned about “THAT kid.”  The wise and delightful Miss Night seems to have struck a chord with teachers and (most) parents alike, igniting an empathy for THAT kid, eliciting patience and kindness and trust.

I agree.  With every word.

And I would like to add on.  I would like to make a case for the value of being THAT kid’s classmates.  Not just tolerating him, or learning to deal with her until next year, or hoping you can make it through the year without your kid getting hurt.  No, I’m talking about real, actual benefits to the OTHER kids as a direct result of being classmates with THAT kid.

You see, the vast majority of parents would very much like the world to revolve around their child.  And they have every right to do so.  (I will not get out my soap box and talk about how my generation was deeply harmed by the “you are so very special, you can be anything you want in this world” attitude of our parents and wonder why we as a culture haven’t learned anything about teaching humility and others-centeredness.  Nope.  I will leave that discussion for another day.)  A parent is supposed to be their child’s best advocate.  They are supposed to be invested and attached, in their child’s education and well-being and future.  They are supposed to feel strongly about their child’s struggles.  This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.

But here’s the thing…  My job, among other things, is to build a community.  To teach generosity and self-control and others-centeredness and conflict resolution.  To make sure the world doesn’t revolve around anyone, and yet, that we all revolve around each other.

In the easy years, we go about our days, learning how to read and write, add and subtract.  We learn to say “thank you” and “excuse me.”  We occasionally say, “I’m sorry.”  We learn to be happy and calm and responsible.

But the hard years…oh sweet soap-on-a-rope, those are the growing times.  We learn to say, “Please stop, I don’t like that.”  And, “I forgive you.”  And, “How can I help?”  We learn, “I see that you didn’t mean to do that.”  And, “I can wait until the teacher is done talking to (THAT kid).”  And, “I think (THAT kid) needs us to care about him right now.”

And that very hardest year?  My kids learned to leave the room without me, go next door unannounced, sit down and read a book.  They learned to be patient when we walked laps around the first floor, as every time we passed our classroom, I glanced in to see if one of my superhero teammates had made it safe to return.  They learned to ignore the distraction when all four “THAT kids” screamed and yelled and banged their books on the floor under my table or in the corner or in the middle of the room.  They learned to be calm and self-sufficient in moments that looked and sounded anything but calm.

And what about the time the “other kids” begged and pleaded with me that even though “THAT kid” had been suspended earlier in the day on Halloween, we should all pass out candy for him anyway and save it for tomorrow?

And the time the “other kids” all thought of something kind to say about “THAT kid” after she had a very challenging day?

And the innumerable times I’ve seen the “other kids” ask “THAT kid” to play with them, over and over, no matter how many times the game ends in tears and frustration?

The “other kids” practice patience and kindness and generosity and forgiveness.  These are things we learn only when we have many opportunities to try them out.  They are the hardest things in the world for our broken humanity.  I struggle with every single one.

A small, not-at-all extreme example:  The other day, I had pulled a small group for reading, and found that K went to the library even though it was her group time.  Not exactly a “THAT kid” moment, but I was irritated.  I said, “K signed up for library?  She has small group!”  Her group-mate S responded to me, “She just made a mistake.  I know she didn’t mean to.  She didn’t see her name on small group.  I do that sometimes.  You do, too.  You remember the day you signed us all up for the wrong small group times?”  Point taken.

To be honest, I am “THAT kid” sometimes.  So are you.  We yell.  We throw things – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  We shut down and give the silent treatment and build walls.  You do the best you can with what you have to give, and sometimes in that moment, it just doesn’t work out well – for you or anyone around you.  But whether I am “THAT kid” or one of the “other kids,” those moments are more opportunities to practice being generous and kind and forgiving.  The messy struggle of working though tough moments and difficult relationships with patience and grace — it is redemption in action.  We are so much better as individuals and as a community for knowing “THAT kid.”

November Goals

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A quick reflection on October’s goals:

-Leaving work ready for the next day’s teaching was moderately successful.  I estimate I was ready for the next day before leaving for the night about 80% of the time.  It freed my mind in the evening to take a true break, and it cleared my mornings to work on other things – data, paperwork, projects.  I intend to continue this habit as part of my routine.

-Keeping sweets to twice a day was very successful!  It was easy to resist temptation during the day because I knew something was waiting for me in the evening if I was still craving sugar.  Once again, I recognized the difference between how it feels after eating too much sugar and how it feels to eat well.  I even chose to dial back how much sugar I put in my coffee in the mornings, and by the end of the month I was really only having a serving of sugary food in the evening, most days.  Experiencing something is almost always the best way I learn, and despite my instincts that lean toward “all-or-nothing,” working through this goal gave me experiential evidence that moderation can be more successful than extremes.

New goals for November:

Just like last month, new goals began to make themselves clear to me a few days before the end of the month.

-At work…  To build off of the adjustments to my afternoon routine, I’m going to try assigning general categories of tasks to particular blocks of time.  You can see a first-draft schedule above.  The job feels so big, so complex, and so unpredictable that there is no way to say, “On Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 I will work on _____.”  But there are categories, general goals under which individual tasks fall.  I need to plan.  I need to work through and respond to math data.  I need to work through and respond to guided reading data.  I need to attend to materials like sharpening pencils, stapling blank books for writing, and cutting out any laminating.  The specific tasks might be different from week to week, but every week needs time to accomplish these general goals.

There are also tasks that may happen only once, or only once every few months, that don’t fit into a general category.  For example, this week I did paperwork for my career development goal for this year.  I also filled out a somewhat time-consuming survey for my principal.  And a student moved away, so within the next few days I’ll have to update his cumulative file to send on to the next school.  These tasks are big enough they need to be assigned to a block of time or they won’t get done.  However, they are not part of the weekly rhythm of my job, so they are harder to schedule.  I’m simply calling these things “projects and tasks.”

You can see there are some unassigned blocks, and obviously most days updating the class Facebook page or responding to parents’ emails or voice mails won’t take my whole plan period.  For the moment, call those spaces “room for surprises.” Maybe organizing time and tasks comes easily to other teachers.  Maybe, if you’re a teacher who is reading this, you think I’m just being a big baby about all of this.  Maybe the immensity of the job is specific to my school district.  But I know this:  If I am going to survive this job for much longer, I need to find out how to make it less overwhelming.  Also, I’m not willing to do less than excellent work.  I’m not ready to give up on making those two things work.

-At home…  Did you know that November is NaNoWriMo?  National Novel Writing Month, for crazy people who have a stirring in their heart to write a work of fiction but need a burst of motivation.  It sounds fantastic to me…except that I have no desire to write fiction.  I do, however, have an addiction to reading fiction!  And to prove it, on top of the shelves of books I own but haven’t yet read, I have a whole shelf of novels borrowed from other people.  So I am calling November BarNoReMo: Borrowed Novel Reading Month!  I don’t expect to finish the whole shelf.  I intend to read at least 50 pages of borrowed fiction per day, on average.  That means on certain busy days I might not read at all, but on a free Sunday I might read a couple hundred pages.  Since this adds up to 350 pages per week, I estimate I will read about a book a week.

So four or five people might get a book back that I borrowed from them.

Or my sister-in-law might finally get the three books back that I have borrowed from her.

That math is not very impressive.  I’m currently looking directly at a bookshelf in my home and realizing just how much time is represented on those shelves.  :)

This goal is actually two-fold.  In order to read more, I need to leverage what little free time I have.  And what sucks up everyone’s free time?  That flat black rectangle in your living room!  I’m going to change up my TV habits a little bit.  In particular, I want to change one specific TV habit.  For the month of November, for meals I have at my home alone, I will eat at the table with the TV off.  I tend to start an episode of something to fill the house with noise, and after I’m done with my meal, I sit and finish watching the episode…and another episode starts…(Thanks, Netflix.)…and before you know it, two hours have passed, it’s 10:30 p.m., I should really go to sleep, and not one ounce of progress has been made toward anything productive or meaningful.  Dinner does not take two hours.  I am curious to find out how much of my free time I would effortlessly get back without that one little mindless habit.  I am curious to find out what I would do when I was done eating, if the TV wasn’t already on.

October Goals

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The 2014-2015 school year is up and running!  I’m ready to settle into routines, create some margin on the edges of my days, and leave the mad rush behind for a season.  Somehow.

A quick reflection on September’s goals:

-Setting boundaries on my workday: Moderately successful.  Most days I got to work somewhat earlier than 7:30 (to be discussed below!) and left between 5:00 and 5:30.  I took work home more often than I would like, but I didn’t dwell too much on that, as it was “the mad rush season.”  I did experience several times throughout the month of feeling more relaxed and refreshed from the evening and night, and I credit that to not having any work at home.  If there is nothing that I can do about the task or stress that pops into my thoughts, I find it much easier to leave the thought behind and focus on the present moment.  It’s a true break from work, which I desperately need to create on a daily basis.

-Working out four times per week:  Epic failure.  I worked out probably four times total in the month of September.  Well, maybe eight times.  I guess that’s not an “epic” failure, but it wasn’t enough exercise to help with stress and increasing the happiness chemicals.  The problem was that I felt compelled to go to work the moment I woke up, instead of taking 45 minutes, or even a half hour, to exercise.  In the morning, I chose work over working out.  When the workout was planned for the evening, such as a yoga class or an outdoor activity with friends, I was more likely to honor my commitment, even though I much prefer working out in the morning.  (To be discussed below!)

New goals for October!

-In addition to setting boundaries on my work hours, I want to get back in the habit of leaving work completely prepared for the next day’s teaching.  The 7:30-8:30 hour can be used for lesson planning, paperwork, etc….there is plenty to do!  But my first priority at 3:45 will be to get the room and materials ready for the following day.  When I feel completely ready for the day’s teaching, I am hoping it will be easier to honor my commitment to come to work at 7:30, not 6:30 or 7:00.

-For a goal for personal time, I would like to take a lesson from what I am learning about setting boundaries on my work hours.  It’s time to set some boundaries on my sugar consumption!  For this “mad rush season,” I have basically been feeding my poor body an IV drip of sugar, processed carbs that quickly turn into sugar in my bloodstream, and caffeine.  I haven’t even been making green smoothies, which is my staple for consuming fruits and veggies when times get tough!  Sugar is the same as crack — I have no science to back that up at the moment, but you know it’s true! — so that’s what I’m going to address in October.  I would like to get in the habit of eating something “dessert-y” just twice a day, morning and night.  Generally, that will look like sugar in my coffee (or flavored syrup in my latte) in the morning, and some kind of dessert in the evening.  (Does that illustrate just how much of my diet has been candy, cookies, coffee shop baked goods, cupcakes, ice cream….)  A twice-a-day sugar habit may not be ideal, but an all-or-nothing attitude is what gets me into this mess way too often!  Me and self-control have never had a great relationship, on any issue, and it’s time to change that.

“We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  –Galatians 5:23 MSG

September Goals

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Good instruction — check.  Good classroom management — no problem.  Good assessments — you got it.

What I struggle with is time management, task management, and stuff management.  Believe it or not, I struggle with what happens when the kids are not in the room.  And it spills over to the time that the kids are there, because the non-instructional time includes planning lessons and prepping materials for the instructional time.  There is always more that can be done during non-instructional time to improve instructional time.

If I could have an hour of plan time for every hour of teaching time, I would be SUCH a better teacher.  But unless I commit to working 12-hour days…well, actually that happens more than I would like.

Which leads me to my second point:  I struggle with balancing non-instructional work time with personal time.  If I have work to do, I skip exercise, sleep, grocery shopping, housework, hobbies, interests, and worst of all…socializing.  (I do not make a good introvert.  I need my social time.)

So..the plan.  Last year, I focused on small habits that would make a big difference.  It was very effective.  This year, I’m adjusting it just a bit.  Each month will have two goals.  One will be something that happens while I’m at school, most likely related to my non-instructional work time, and the other will be something that happens in my personal time.  The overarching theme of these goals will be “sustainability”…creating for myself a work atmosphere that lends itself to excellence over a long period of time, rather than forever living in “emergency mode” and focusing simply on surviving the next 24 hours.

For the remainder of September, my first goal is to work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with rare exception.  I am setting boundaries on my time.  I could spend an infinite amount of time in my classroom, and my drive and perfectionism would like me to spend all my free time there.  In the moment, my perfectionism usually wins, unless I have a bigger picture in mind.  It may help me to stick to a schedule for awhile, be efficient and prioritize my time, and leave work at work.  This is not a new goal; I’m just getting a head start on it this year!

My second goal is to exercise four times a week.  Morning versus evening workouts…not a good battle over the last few years.  Run versus yoga versus walking/hiking versus ultimate frisbee with friends…also a battle.  “How can I become a ‘runner’ unless I run four times a week?  I should give up frisbee if I want to be a ‘runner.’  And just walking won’t help me become a ‘runner’ — I may as well just stay home unless I’m going to run.”  It’s time to stop fighting the battles.  I really love those four ways to exercise: running, yoga, ultimate frisbee, and hiking.  What if I did each of them just once a week?  This is a question I’m going to explore for the remainder of September.  It would be four workouts — four MORE workouts than just giving up for indecisiveness over what kind of exerciser I want to be!  And it feels more sustainable than having a rigid commitment to one type of exercise, and trying to fit the others in as “extra.”

“Keep on pushing back the dark…”  This lyric has been in my head as I ponder these goals.  Living in emergency mode creates quite a lot of “dark.”  I don’t want to live there anymore.

photo credit: ezra1311 via photopin cc

The Fire

Some women are lost in the fire.  Some women are built from it.

Two days of school, done.  176 to go.

Considering that the first day of school is generally the hardest, most exhausting day…this year will be great!  Seriously.  It was a cake walk.  Easy peasy.  Easy as pie.  Easy as a $3 hooker.

(I may be feeling skeptical about the reliability of this generalization?)

I expect it will get harder.  DEVOLSON is coming, after all.  This teaching thing is hard stuff.  50+ hours a week, at a breakneck pace, is enough to overwhelm anyone, and burn out many.  I was browsing my favorite teaching blogs today, and the word “sustainable” struck me a couple of times.  As in, a pace and workload that is sustainable over the course of a year or a career.  (Read this.  And this.)  A teacher’s pace and workload are unsustainable.

I love the challenge…but the intensity wears on me.  I love the purpose-filled nature of this job…but I am not Superwoman and I can’t always save the day.  This is the fight.  This is our fire.  “Sustainable” is going to be my word this school year.  Stay tuned as I consider and define what that means for me.

Book Report: Lean In

A few months ago, the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg caught my eye at Target.  I had never heard of her.  I didn’t know anything about this book.  But the title intrigued me, and the book jacket description intrigued me more.  It stayed in the back of my mind for awhile.

A few days ago, I finally bought the book.  I had watched Ms. Sandberg’s TEDTalk, and I could wait no longer.  I knew I would have to intentionally read Lean In through a filter of “I’m NOT in business.  The culture of a school is certainly very different from the culture of an organization whose objective is to make a profit.  How can I apply this to my own career?”  Throughout the book there is an underlying current about women in workplaces surrounded by men.  As I’m sure you would expect, elementary education is the opposite of that.  Women dominate both the teaching staff and the administration in my school district.  I wanted to read Ms. Sandberg’s story, but my question was…  Does gender really affect my workplace experience in any way that is worth addressing?  Ms. Sandberg made a few excellent points that are, in fact, relevant to my experience.

You are in charge.  Don’t wait for opportunities to find you.  Don’t wait for the perfect time.  Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder, and you can climb whichever direction you choose.

Don’t leave before you leave.  Don’t take action based on children you don’t yet have, for example.  Take a break when it’s time to take a break, not in anticipation of needing a break.

The work-life balance is an important concept, but a bad name.  Who would choose work over life?  Instead, we should remember that engaging in purposeful, compelling work is an important and satisfying part of life.  I especially loved a story Ms. Sandberg told to illustrate the challenge of setting boundaries and sticking to them.  There were two married women with children and one single woman on a panel of speakers.  The married women were discussing how hard it was to balance their lives, and the single woman interjected that she was tired of people thinking that issue was only for people with kids.  The single woman’s need to go to a party is just as important as the married woman’s need to attend her child’s soccer game.  You have every right to a full life, whether married or single, parent or childless.  The kicker is, you have to set your own boundaries.  Your employer is going to continue to make demands on your time.  It’s your responsibility to decide what you are willing to do.

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