Sunday, March 5, 2017

Passionate People

     I've noticed recently, as I watch those around me, that people surround themselves with those who are similar to them. Not a great revelation for most, but it was for me. I've been thinking about passion a lot lately and wondering if I surround myself with people who burn with ideas or are desperately sold out to something. I've come to realize these are my kind of people. Not the apathetic or self-centered person who wants not to give back but to take more from society. Not the driftless and aimless who climb on one bandwagon after another. It's taken me a long time, but I've realized, thanks in part of a dear friend of mine, that I am passionate about kids, how they're treated, and their need to succeed. Those are the people I surround myself with--like-minded souls who are champions for kids.
     So where did all this preponderance on passion begin? From my friend Jodi. The same one who hooked me with the idea of the WAR for Literacy conference. The same one whose grant I've been rereading for the past few weeks, helping her fashion words to express her unending passion for "kiddos" and her deep desire to see them get connected with caring adults and avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse.
     I'm a doer by nature and love to surround myself with other doers. They inspire me. I get great ideas that build off theirs. I am totally energized and stoked when I am with others who share my passion (kids), talk about ways to impact that passion (kids), and come up with ideas to do just that.
     My friend has a stand up idea that is so cool. And it is feasible. Realistic not idealistic. It can change people's lives, both kids and adults, if they buy into the idea. Just talking to my friend fires me up with ideas. In a recent email exchange after I finished reviewing her final draft, I told her this is a slam dunk and begged to be part of her team when she implements this program.Yes, you read that right...begged. She is doing something I've only dreamed of doing for the past fifteen years. She acted on my "some day thoughts." Are the ideas exactly the same? No, but they're close enough that it rejuvenates that dream in me. That's what this friend does. All. The. Time. All the time. She inspires me with her passion.
      This is who I want in my life. People who are passionate. My pastor is like this and I love that in him. He's passionate about our church impacting the Greater Grand Forks community in positive ways. He encourages us to volunteer outside the church, we give to groups and organizations in the community, both faith-based and not, who are making an impact in the cities. I love this about Pastor Paul. I love his passion.
     So how about you? Have you discovered your passion? Do you hang out with passionate people? If you don't feel you're enthused by much, find people who are and start hanging around them. Maybe some if it will rub off. And that could make all the difference.

Friday, March 3, 2017

What's Your Passion?

     One of the buzzwords in today's society is "passion." Every where I turn, lately, that question screams at me. Usually I'm in some kind of project zone and totally disregard the question. But lately I've been thinking about it and asking myself the same question. Our fourth block is coming to a close and the next starts in a few days. Am I still passionate about what I do and for whom I do it? These are serious questions I've had to ask myself.
     As I stated in an earlier blog I have an older sister who began her first year of teaching this year--she's in her sixth decade yet didn't view that as an obstacle in fulfill a lifelong dream. Even though she never formally taught in a school, teaching has been her passion. And she's good at it. I look at her and wonder if I share that same enthusiasm and express it as readily as she does.
     So as I pondered the passion question, I began to list things I am passionate about. I burn inside when I see kids mistreated, neglected, or abused. B.U.R.N. It angers me beyond words when I see parents treat their kids like problems rather than people. I guess it'd be safe to say I'm passionate about kids and their receiving proper treatment.
     The other day I ran into an old friend whom I got hooked into foster care. That was 15 years ago and she's still going strong. legitimate part of her family. She's passionate about taking care of kids.
     Kids are my passion too. Teaching them to learn how to think is a passion and I use English as the catalyst to do this. But teaching is not my passion. In fact, I never really wanted to be a teacher. I started out as a pre-vet/animal science major in college and switched after I realized I wasn't cut out for that career. Because I had to declare a major, I took something that came easily to me (reading and writing) and decided to major in English. I went with a double major in Education so I could support myself. It was teaching by default.
     The first twelve years as a teacher were something I'd never want to repeat. However, once I got back into education at my present school, I seemed to have found my sweet spot. This is what I'm passionate about--I'm passionate about Community High School and the kids it serves.
     So, yeah, in a way I guess I'm consumed with teens and their well being. In them feeling a sense of success in school. In them believing in themselves and knowing others believe  in them as well.
     I want my kids to be treated fairly. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to know someone has their back.
     I can answer the question I posed at the beginning of this blog post. I'm passionate about teens, their flaws and failings, and want to help them find their passion, too. What about you? Have you found your passion yet and are you pursuing it? It could make all the difference. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Getting Ready for WAR

     The title of this entry may seem rather combative or aggressive. And maybe it is. The WAR I'm helping to wage is toward apathy. Apathy about writing and reading. The majority of today's youth find themselves far too busy to enjoy either activity. These two skills compete against football, swimming, basketball, hockey, dance, gymnastics, vocal lessons, music lessons to name a few. Then there are the after-school jobs and whew! Today's youth are busy indeed. Any downtime they may have is gobbled up by social media. So how can we engage today's youth in the archaic forms of entertainment, writing and reading? By waging WAR.
     Last year was our inaugural conference which saw about 120-130 teens in attendance. This year, with author Ellen Hopkins as our keynote speaker and intensified marketing efforts as well as opening the conference to the region, we hope to almost triple those initial numbers.
     In addition to Hopkins, kids will be able to choose from 11 breakout sessions that range from screenwriting (by someone in the business) to speed reading tips to fiction writing to journalism. These professionals are giving up valuable time to invest in the lives of teens.
     Does this conference make a difference? I recently sat down with the organizer of UND's Writers Conference, Crystal Alberts, who has been an invaluable help in planning our own conference which is always a day after hers. I mentioned to her our budget restraints which may make our 2nd annual our last annual. She told me we had to continue. The conference made a difference. Then she related a story about a freshman college student who saw a WAR for Lit flyer in Alberts' office. The freshman spied the poster and told Alberts she was going into English because of the WAR conference. Not a big deal? It is for someone who wasn't interested in college and had no direction.
     So I'm getting ready for WAR along with a team of other organizers who are working hard to make sure this year isn't our last year. WAR does matter. Ask that college freshman. For her, i
t made all the difference.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Challenge Yourself Pt 2

      Well, challenge accepted and challenge complete.
       Last night I forced myself to step  out of the Zyg Zone, my comfort area, and do something not comfortable at all--speak in front of a group of strangers. For some, like my husband, they thrive on such experiences. Me? Not so much.
      So how did it go? Meh, it went. I wasn't great, but I did it. I elicited a chuckle at least, even though it was through a gaffe on my part. But if you can't laugh at yourself...right?
      The only good thing I feel came out of it, besides me ticking off a major yuck on my list, is that I was able to convey a short and simple message about at-risk teens. I guess you'd say they're my passion. That's another thing I discovered about myself during this adventure. I do have a passion and it's at-risk kids. That's what I spoke about--not judging but rather trying to understand at-risk kids. However, I digress (If my students did this in their writing, I 'd tell them they were on a rabbit trail).
      The main thing is I did it. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but I faced the dread head on and suffered through it (as did the audience, I'm sure). My goal this year is to challenge myself to do something outside the Zyg Zone monthly. I'm glad I've gotten this one tucked away. Now on to the next.
     So how about you? What are you going to challenge yourself to do? Jump in, the water's fine. It could make all the difference.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Challenge Yourself

      It's a new year, a time for resolutions, re-commitments to prior goals or resignation of goals not made. I rarely make resolutions because I know I'm likely to fail. However, this year I'm challenging myself, not making e a resolution. I'm challenging myself to step out of the comfort zone or Zyg  Zone and foray into virgin or scary territory.
     Like most people, I lack confidence and really am not comfortable with public speaking. I stutter and stammer and look foolish trying to piece a coherent thought together. But this is an area of my life I really want to improve. Ergo, the challenge.
     My challenge is coming in a day. Someone recommended me to give a Tedtalk here in my city. It's only a two-minute pitch, but it's in front of people. I composed a quick, positive response and then looked at the email forever. Did I really want to put myself out there? Absolutely not. But it wasn't about me, it was about the challenge. When I came up with the idea to challenge myself, I didn't expect an opportunity to present itself so quickly. So I pressed "send" and off it sailed into cyberspace. I had two dates to choose from, this month or next. I chose this month, knowing I'd probably not go through with it if I waited.
      So tomorrow night I'll be at a TED X talk open mic, giving my two minute pitch. It doesn't sound like much, I know, but for me, it's a definite stretch. I'm grateful for the chance to wiggle out of the Zyg Zone, even if it is nerve-wracking.
     What about you? How can you challenge yourself this year? Give it a try. It can make all the difference.

Friday, December 9, 2016

First Year Findings

     My older sister is not your normal first year teacher. She began this journey eons ago but finally saw her dream job come true when she was offered the opportunity to teach 6-8 grade ELA this year. I'd mention my sister's age, but shell probably read this and hurt me. Suffice it to say she's not in her 20s, 30s or 40s. I encouraged this career path, knowing how good she'd be and how she's always longed to be a teacher. That being said, she's taught me quite a bit this year.
     The first lesson I learned from her was to simplify. She sent me her syllabus and course overview and I became discouraged just reading it. I felt like the student, overwhelmed before I even started. My advice to her was to lighten up. Make sure her students learned the essentials but weren't buried. I asked myself if I do that. Do I make sure my students are proficient before moving on to new material? Do I want my kids to know a little material/ideas/concepts well, or to know a lot of information poorly? My answers determine my actions.
      At the beginning of the school year, my sister, was fairly well stressed: new job as a teacher, new technology to learn, new curriculum to study and implement. She turned to me for help, and I did what I could. The technology part of the preparation concerned her. My advice was to take it slow and know that she'd eventually get it. Sometimes as teachers we try to do too many new things in our classroom, using technology or not, which leads to not becoming proficient in any of them. I have to remind myself of this often. Implement one or two new things well before moving on to embrace more new things.
     My sister spends her days creating lesson plans, writing rubrics, and preparing for her classes. Her students are enjoying her as a teacher and are engaged in learning. All successes I think. However, does she border on perfectionism? I see that in my own life, constantly refining things until I'm satisfied for the moment, yet I never give up. I'm constantly trying new things, which is fine, as long as that implementation isn't taking over your life. Moderation in all things.
     We recently had two snow days at school. Whereas I spent the time relaxing and baking, she admitted she would have used the time to work on school materials. Sometimes, I realized, I just need a break. A year ago I would never have thought that, but I know I'm more effective as a teacher if I have some down time.
     My sister and I are close. I enjoy having her as a colleague, sharing ideas with her, talking with her about her classes, and relating to her like few others in our family can. As I see her embark on this virgin journey into education, I am happy to learn right along with her. Her journey has helped me become a better, more focused teacher, reminding me of tenets I took for granted in the past. And that? That has made all the difference.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


      Sometimes I feel like my favorite football team: potential is there to have a winning season, but oftentimes they fail to live up to expectations. Sure, my team is beat up and filling spots with their practice squad guys they've had to sign to pick up the slack. But they still have potential. They proved what they could do recently on the football field. Sometimes I feel as though I have the potential, but I just doesn't click. When I get stressed over how things are going in my class, I think of the quarterback of my team. He urged fans to "R-e-l-a-x" and things would get better--everything would be okay. Even though we didn't go to the Superbowl, we had a good season and made the playoffs. In essence, he was right. When I get stressed over events in my classroom, I need a dose of that advice.
     What I have noticed after two plus decades of teaching is that nothing goes according to plan. Really, how could it? There's a variable in there that is not a constant--it's kids and they are never constant. Their worlds are rarely constant, so how can they be? Instead of getting stressed about their seeming lack of engagement, we need to relax as teachers and realize things will get better.
     It seems the holidays are the worst, at least for my demographic. For a myriad of reasons, life isn't always easy or kind to my kids, and it's worse during the holidays. I know they have a world full of complications in their lives outside of school that sometimes spills over into the school day. We can either approach kids with a firm, inflexible hand, or with empathy and flexibility. Does that mean we let them off the hook and not have high expectations of them? No, it means that some days we reduce our expectations, knowing they have a whole lot more important stuff on their mind than Walt Whitman.
     When I'm relaxed and in the teaching "zone," I know what I'm doing and things are clicking. Relaxing takes stress out of me, out of the students and out of the classroom providing a more appealing environment for learning.
     The key is that we, as teachers, help to establish the classroom atmosphere. Things may seem as though they are bogging down and kids are approaching school with a lack of energy, but we can change that through our own attitude. Maybe we do need a "recharge" of our attitude or approach to school. Maybe we do need to lighten up. Maybe we do need to relax. Our classrooms are a reflection of us--like it or not, good or bad. By relaxing and enjoying your students, you can create a less stressful environment for learning.
     The holidays can be stressful enough. For football teams and teachers. Teams are trying to wield their magic on the field in hopes of achieving that elusive play-off berth while teachers are working the same magic in the classroom, hoping to engage students and help them learn. Both can be difficult endeavors. And both can be doable. We just need to R-E-L-A-X. It can make all the difference.