When we have each other, we have everything.
Ben, Sam, and I flew out to Bend, Oregon to visit with Scott and Libby. Scott and Libby are renting a house until March. Bend is a great little town. Surrounded by mountains, but with the temperate coastal weather, it makes for a nice vacation destination. Unfortunately, the weather is so nice that there isn't any snow on Mt. Bachelor yet. We have been enjoying other activities in lieu of skiing. We have played several rounds of the game, Settlers of Catan. We have hiked in several parks and enjoyed tasty food. We hiked near in Shevlin Park and Smith Rock. Smith Rock was phenomenal. There were a lot of rock climbers there and the scenery was impressive. From certain vantage points, the entire mountain range could be seen. It was an 800 ft ascent which proved a little more challenging than we had anticipated. All of us were dressed in multiple layers thinking we would get cold, but we were sweating our brains out. You live and you learn, I guess. A great holiday weekend with family and feeling thankful for all that life has brought us so far!
Not sure what spurred my reflections on my years of teaching...but I have been thinking about my choice of career a lot this weekend. My first thought was, "Wow, it has been 7 years when it easily could have only been 1." After my first year, I really didn't know if teaching was the career for me. I struggled big time. Over a dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, it was Ben who convinced me to give it one more year. Now I find myself loving my job and feeling grateful that I landed in my small-town district. In the spirit of being "thankful" this time of year, here is a list of things that I am thankful for in my job:
An amazing friend and colleague: Our friendship began with an impromptu decision for Ali to co-teach one class period with me. The intention of the class is to provide greater support for students that are on Special Education caseload or students that struggle with reading/writing. Little did I know then the impact that this class would have on my students, but also on my life. I met an amazing friend and mentor the day we started teaching together. Ali is a friend who: listens to the drama even if she has heard it a million times, makes me grateful that I have a REAL friend than lots of surface-level friends, accepts and loves her friends for who they are and where they are, and can put a smile on anyone's face with her sense of humor. Ali is a teacher who: puts the needs of her students above her own (she has some crazy stories), puts effort into being the best she can be even after 15 years of teaching, is willing to dance and sing during a lesson if it means the students will understand, and deals with EXTREMELY challenging parents, but still walks around with a smile on her face and a willingness to hear about the tough days of others. I admire her for these reasons and more and can't imagine my life without her. She is an invaluable friend and colleague! Love you girl!
Google Chromebooks: I was recently given (by my amazingly resourceful principal) access to a cart of Google Chromebooks for my classroom. Utilizing these devices in my classroom doesn't make me a better teacher, but these devices provide me with the opportunity to enhance my teaching and expand beyond the walls of my classroom. In addition, students are provided with the practice needed to prepare them for a world that will be highly dependant on technological competence. Although my current students have grown up in the digital age, students lack a simple understanding of how to use technology beyond social interactions. I can now work with my students on a consistent basis to use electronic calendars, notes, and collaborative methods that will impact them beyond the classroom.
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The art of discussion: This year, I made room in my classroom for a lot of student-led discussions. I attended a Socratic Seminar conference last year and learned a ton about how to lead students of any age in an engaging conversation. For those adults out there that don't spend time with middle schoolers, please understand that this can be rather challenging at times...thus the need to go to a conference to learn how to manage 13-year-olds leading discussions. The results have been incredible. I am seeing a growing confidence in my students and I am learning a lot from listening to them support their opinions with self-led research. Every other week, I share an article with my students from Kelly Gallagher (amazing resource for engaging, current news articles). Students will formulate a response to the article based on research. The following week, students will discuss / debate the article. It is incredible to see students defend their perspectives and engage one another in quality conversations. In addition, students that are not included in the discussion participate in a backchannel discussion using TodaysMeet. These students will provide feedback to their peers, ask additional questions, or provide personal opinions on the topic. This ensures that all students are engaged and supplies instant, specific feedback to those engaged in the discussion. These discussions have become the highlight of my week!
My school district is adopting the 21st Century ISTE model this year: This model promotes encouraging student learning in the 6 areas listed in the picture. I am thankful for this adoption because it encourages me to take a closer look at how I teach and evaluate if there is a better way. I have discovered that there is a better way to teach a business research paper that I have taught for a few years now. I am especially excited for this lesson now because of the changes that I have made. Students will now create a business based on the creation of an app/product of their creation. Students will pitch their "business" to a group of Deca students from the high school that will be "sharks" (from t.v. show "Shark Tank"). Presenting to high schoolers will definitely up the ante for my students. I also arranged for a friend from long ago, Brian Howe, to have a video conference with my students prior to them working on their business project. Brian started Impact Hub, a place for entrepreneurs to collaborate and pool resources. Not only has he demonstrated successful entrepreneurship, but he created a company that furthers the support of new entrepreneurs. I love the changes to this lesson and look forward to the results.
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Pride in our district: Two former students of mine created a blog this year that is solely based on promoting pride in our district, 170daysofMWHSpride. In a world where social media isn't always used for good, these students are showcasing our district in the most positive way and for all to see! Over the last 7 years, my pride in our district has increased as I have seen our small district accomplish big things. In 2012, Bloomberg Business Week named Mound, MN as the best place to raise kids. Overall, we have incredibly involved parents and a hard-working staff in our schools. So much to be proud of...just look at our school website.
Ben and I ventured down to Maui over MEA Break this year. This time it was a trip for just the two of us! We had a great time and a surprising amount of relaxing down time (we don't relax well). We stayed just outside of Lahaina at a VRBO. We had a great view of the ocean and a balcony (a must when you stay in Hawaii). My favorite part of staying where we did...all the turtles. Every day we were able to see tons surface. One night we even experienced a turtle lounging on the beach and watched it re-enter the water. We spent every morning reading in lounge chairs next to the water. In general, we were out for most of the day exploring and then back to make dinner and go to bed early. Our favorite activity was probably the Haleakala National Park. We went up there to watch the sunset and hike. The volcano is amazingly beautiful. If we had more time, I would definitely hike the three days it would take to see it all. Stunning! We did go on a diving trip. Ben enjoyed himself and was able to log two more dives. Unfortunately, I had issues with my ears. I had something called Alterbaric Vertigo. One of my ears cleared and the other didn't. I should have descended slightly, but typically you surface with ear trouble. Surfacing caused it to worsen. I was sick on the boat for the next three hours. I entered the water 2 times after surfacing just to try to equalize. It was awful. I know that I will be nervous to dive again in March...but I can't let fear hold me back. Awesome trip overall!
New Years resolution...I know I am early...keeping up with my blog. My blogging relationship fell on rocky times this last year. First, Apple decides to no longer host blogs. For any of you that know me, I have a HARD time with change. I actually jumped on the bandwagon fairly quickly with a new site...but the new site drove me absolutely crazy. I am a perfectionist when it comes to controlling where pictures are in relation to the text, etc. etc. I had no control. For any of you that really know me, I have a HARD time not controlling small things like that. Thus, I have failed as a blogger over the course of the last year.
However, I am turning over a new leaf. I have found this amazing website, I have control again, and I have embraced the change. So...no longer will I be gone for months at a time. I am back to my old, blogger self and will annoy you with probably too many posts and too many pictures. It feels good to be back.
Ben, Julie, and Amelia